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.
Please note that I've thrown pretty much all historical accuracy out the window. I know that William of Orange was actually like 12 years younger than Louis but for this, I've made them both teenagers at the same time (William is still younger though). Meticulous research is ... not really my thing.
Miles of grassy hillside disappeared under his feet as Louis walked farther and farther from camp. His guard traveled at a respectful distance behind him, no doubt gripped with fear that harm would befall him on this inadvisable jaunt, and yet still they felt too close. He longed for the freedoms he had known before he ascended to the throne (although, he reflected, as dauphin he had never truly known freedom). More than that, he longed for someone to share the burden with. Someone who understood. There was only one person in the world that held that honor, and right now he was less than a mile away from the French camp, cheerfully plotting Louis’ demise.
Louis thought back to the first time he’d seen William. They had both been teenagers, and not yet kings in their own right. William had accompanied the Dutch emissary visiting the palace, in theory to learn about trade deals and negotiations. He learned a great deal else instead. Louis remembered vividly walking into the antechamber the flanked the room in which such trade dealings took place, thinking to gaze out the window and compose himself for the coming hours. Eager though he was to become king, numbers made Louis’ stockings itch even more than usual.
As he entered the room, his very first thought was that although The Sun King was his own nickname, it should immediately be revoked and bestowed upon the boy in front of him. His hair shone in the light cascading through the window, and his skin seemed to glow with youth and vitality. His eyes, barely visible to Louis at this angle, sparkled with a kind of openness that everyone here at the palace seemed to lack.
And then he turned to face Louis, and that stunning openness was replaced by a cool, hard mask with remarkable speed. Louis stopped short, unsure of the proper etiquette for introducing himself to a beautiful boy who now looked as at Louis as if he were an insect, or a puzzle.
“Louis, I presume?” The boy’s voice was clipped and clear. It spoke to an unquestionably noble upbringing, and gave nothing away.
“Who are you?” Louis blurted.
“I’ll take that as a yes. I am William of Orange, ward of Cornelius De Witt, and future Stadtholder of Holland. Unlike you, I was taught how to properly introduce myself.”
“You dare speak to the future King of France thus?” Louis’ temper flared instantly.
“Certainly. Or have you forgotten that you speak to the Prince of Orange?” William’s tone remained thoroughly impassive, but Louis thought he caught a hint of amusement dancing in his eyes. He took a breath and paused to reconsider. This was the first time he’d ever interacted one on one with someone who held exactly the same position he did. It would not do to alienate this perplexing specimen before he had time to analyze it fully.
“Why didn’t I see you last night?” The French royals had formally greeted the Dutch emissary in the throne room upon their arrival. It was one of Louis’ favorite duties: the chance to study the people and customs of another land, all while ensuring that the French royal family looked as glorious and intimidating as possible. It seemed impossible that he could have missed this boy in the crowd.
“I was feeling unwell after the journey, and took the opportunity to retire early.” William said, not entirely convincingly. Louis couldn’t imagine him ever being ill; William and frailty seemed completely unfamiliar with each other.
“I see. I hope your accommodations proved comfortable?” Louis sought steadier ground in the undeniable opulence of the palace. Anything to distract himself from the peculiar hold William seemed to have on his attention.
“Indeed. Though despite the warmer climate here in the south, my sheets carried a bit of a chill.” William said the words with no inflection, and yet again, Louis was sure he could detect a subtle jest.
“I am saddened to hear it. You should see to that quickly, lest you become … unwell.” The words tumbled out of Louis’ mouth unbidden, but he was rewarded when the ghost of a smile flashed across William’s face.
- - - - - - -
William paced in the flickering candlelight of his tent. It was late, far too late for him to still be awake on the eve of a major battle, but he made no attempt to remove his coat, let alone his boots. His mind churned, twisting and turning over the possibilities of the coming day. What kind of forces would he meet tomorrow? What kind of foe would Louis be?
They had always been rivals, well before they had ever met. William had heard stories of the French prince’s arrogance and vanity from the time he could walk. And while he had to admit they were not entirely untrue, they had done nothing to prepare William for the sheer fun of interacting with someone who was every bit his equal. From the moment they met, their verbal sparring had contained both a promise of assured future enmity and an exhilarating blend of teasing, combat, and if he was being honest, flirtation.
Things were much simpler back then, William reflected. Although they knew the promise of war between their countries might drive them to battle in some distant future, it did nothing to stop them from becoming instantly inseparable. Dawn till dusk they hunted together, played chess, held raging philosophical debates, each desperate to best the other. This quickly led to late nights spent talking incessantly as the candle stubs burned out in their holders.
It should hardly be surprising, then, that eventually they became interested to learn other things about each other. With each other. Who else could serve as both a challenge and a foil? Who else could be fully trusted, treated as an equal? There were so many things they shared only with each other. Why not add a few more to the list?
Another memory found its way into William’s mind, the force of it surprising him. The flickering light of the fireplace illuminating the richly woven bedspread they sat on. The shadows jumping on Louis’ face were nothing compared to the ones that jumped in his eyes when William leaned forward and asked, voice low and tentative, “Have you ever kissed a boy before?”
“No, but my brother tells me it’s quite delightful,” Louis responded, his attempt at lightheartedness sabotaged by the way his voice trembled, though with anxiety or excitement William couldn’t guess.
“Don’t you want to find out? Can’t let him have all the fun.” It was a low blow, William knew. Rationally, he was sure that goading someone into kissing you by exploiting their sibling rivalry was a less than preferred method. But it was late and they had run out of wine hours ago and even his patience had limits.
William pushed forward onto his hands and knees. Louis didn’t move an inch, but held very still as the space between them dwindled. William hesitated, his nerve threatening to fail him at the very last moment.
“Don’t think about it. Take a decision. Be a man,” Louis breathed.
With that, William surged forward and captured his lips in a sudden kiss. Louis came alive underneath him, stillness entirely abandoned. Before he realized what he was doing, William’s hands had left the bed to wind into Louis’ long hair. So impractical, he thought. Louis’ life was ruled by fashion, not functionality. And yet at that moment he couldn’t bring himself to care.
Louis rose up on his knees, pushing William out of the awkward leaning position the shift of his hands had left him in. They found themselves pressed flush together from knees to lips, which sent the blood rushing out of William’s head. He gasped as Louis bit down on his lip, and felt the other boy smile triumphantly. William chastised himself for forgetting that any interaction with Louis was a battle to be won or lost, and so far he was losing. He redoubled his efforts to get to Louis, trying to push him out of control the way William himself felt at the moment.
William had no shortage of tricks at his disposal, and it seemed neither did Louis. Treated to a steady parade of maids and young noblewomen enthralled by the title of Prince, neither was lacking in experience. But the fact that this was Louis made everything different. Louis wasn’t pliant or breathy or eager to please. Louis was energetic and demanding, and above all he was a rival.
A humorless smile spread across his face as William imagined the looks on their soldiers’ faces if he and Louis rode into battle against each other only to end up in a passionate embrace. It wasn’t quite as farfetched an idea as it should have been. Louis always had been the weak spot in William’s renowned self-control.
Finally, some smut! This story will get consistently smuttier throughout the next chapters so be warned and/or excited.
It had been decided. William would have to wait one more day and one more interminable night before the French launched their attack, giving him the chance to quash their forces with what he considered to be a truly ingenious strategy. Louis would have been proud, if not for the fact that his utter defeat was an integral part of the plan.
There had been a time, long ago, when Louis had looked down on him. Several years younger, the a future ruler of the Dutch Republic instead of a true royal monarchy, Louis had implicitly assumed him to be more naïve, less shrewd, and generally less competent. It hadn’t taken long for William to prove that he was a match for Louis in every way, equally adept at sparring with wit as with swords. It took slightly longer for either of them to learn that not only were they as strong as each other, but in fact they were stronger with each other. Challenging each other whenever it was available, bolstering each other when necessary, always feeding off of the tension they held between them.
William recalled a day, a lifetime ago now, spent in a beautiful French forest in the dead of winter. He and Louis had snuck out of the palace, shucking their royal guards, to go riding for hours on end. Driven, as always, into fierce competition, they pushed each other and their horses harder and harder. They leapt over fallen trees slightly too tall and streams just a little too wide to safely ford. They took hairpin turns at breakneck speed, weaving through trees more on instinct than reason. It had been perhaps William’s favorite day at the French palace to that point. Although Louis’s age and education occasionally bested him in debate or chess, horseback riding was entirely William’s domain. They raced each other down the path back toward the palace laughing and shouting with unbridled glee. It was the first time he’d ever seen Louis so unguarded, and supposed the same could be said of him.
Their idyllic excursion disintegrated before William’s eyes as Louis’ horse stepped onto a loose piece of gravel that turned violently underfoot. Horse and rider tumbled down in a hurricane of limbs rolling over and over until their momentum was spent. Admittedly, William’s first thought was firmly along the lines of “oh shit, did I just kill the next King of France?” But as he rushed over to find blue and purple bruises already blooming on a dazed Louis, William was filled with an unexpected tenderness. It wasn’t duty, or fear of consequences, that compelled him to kneel down and lift Louis gently off the forest floor, but rather a true desire to aid a friend in pain. Louis’ horse got shakily to its feet and followed him out of the trees.
“Unhand me! I’m perfectly fine. I don’t need your stinking Dutch help, you sewer rat.” Louis spat. William considered the effects of dropping him back to the ground and simply leaving.
“In fact, it appears you do,” he said instead, his voice dry. He could see the flush on Louis’ cheeks, and knew how embarrassed he must feel. That did little to stir sympathy in him, but he salvaged enough composure to stop himself from dropping Louis or spewing any vitriol back.
Leaving both horses untethered somewhere near the stables, William started towards the palace. He walked as smoothly as he could, trying not to jostle the smaller form in his arms as he wondered where he might find the most discrete doctor in all of France. As he turned toward a main entrance, however, Louis shook his head.
“Follow the stairway to the West Wing. There’s a bathroom that’s not currently in use due to a broken window. I don’t need to see a doctor, just draw me a bath.”
William struggled for a moment between insisting that Louis see a doctor, consequences be damned, and voicing his offense at the suggestion that he should draw Louis a bath like a common servant. In the end he did neither, and merely followed Louis’ instructions to the secluded room. Once there, he deposited Louis on the edge of the tub and set about drawing the bath. It took several minutes for him to figure out the damn French contraption, not aided by the fact that he had never performed such a task in his life. When the water was steaming and threatening to escape the tall walls of the tub, he made to leave the room.
“Wait.” He turned to see Louis sitting exactly where he had left him, still fully clothed and grimacing slightly. There was a certain kind of defeat in his eyes when he asked, “Do you think you could … help me?”
William’s stomach dropped. This is not how he had imagined undressing The Sun King (not that he imagined that at all). He didn’t think it was possible for Louis to look so humbled. A small part of him wanted to crow in victory, to make sure Louis was fully aware of who had the power now. But he restrained himself, and looked at the floor as he stepped toward Louis. It felt odd, grasping the buttons of another man’s waistcoat. The room was dim without candelabras, but enough sunlight filtered through the broken glass of the windows so that he could examine the fine embroidery on the garment. Louis shrugged it off his shoulders with a wince, and William turned to place it on a hanging rack.
When he turned back, Louis’ eyes weren’t cast down. Instead, he looked up at William with a steady gaze. William felt his mouth go dry, but ignored it as he went about removing piece after piece of Louis’ clothing. What on earth compelled the French to wear so many damn garments? He tried, so hard, to keep his stare dispassionate but failed miserably. Who could resist gaping at the soft skin of Louis’ throat, revealed by the loss of his cravat?
He heard Louis’ breath hitch as he kneeled down to remove his shoes, those stupid little high heeled things that were all the rage in France, and his stockings, paper thin and a striking shade of blue-grey. Without thinking about it, William looked up from under his lashes and met Louis’ eyes yet again. This time there was no mistaking the lust in them. Louis’ pupils were blown wide and his mouth hung slightly open. William felt himself grow warm in response, but rebuked himself yet again. Louis was in pain, and probably concussed. This was not the time to pursue pleasures of the flesh.
With one final motion, William swept the nightshirt off of Louis from behind, hung it up, and again turned to go. Staying was a bad idea. Staying would lead him to do something he might regret. Louis had plenty of other people begging to assist him in every way. But William couldn’t resist pausing in the doorway to look back. He glanced over his shoulder to find Louis sinking underneath the water, head leaning back against the smooth marble and a satisfied smirk gracing his face.
“I imagine it must be cold in here, what with the draft and all,” Louis said without opening his eyes.
“Indeed it is. I thought I might relocate to another, warmer part of the palace.” William responded, fighting to keep his voice even.
“It’s plenty warm here in the bath. And besides, I might need help washing my hair.”
William opened his mouth to express his outrage when he caught sight of Louis’ face, open and teasing. It was an invitation, but Louis could never manage to deliver an invitation without some sting of insult attached. William wondered briefly if this was all a trick, some clever ploy to embarrass him or lower his defenses. But then he thought back some nights before, when he had kissed Louis while kneeling on top of his own bed, and of the unmistakable passion with which Louis had responded. If this was a game, Louis was losing just as badly as he was.
So without giving Louis the satisfaction of a response, he began stripping off his own many layers. He kicked his tall leather boots, without heels on them, across the room and unlaced his doublet. Eventually he discarded his last piece of clothing and moved toward the bathtub, where he found Louis watching him through cracked eyes.
“Like what you see?” he asked boldly, as if the answer were obvious, and yet William still held his breath as he waited for an answer. Louis remained silent but reached out and pulled him forcefully into the tub, splashing gallons of water over the sides.
“Oops.” Louis didn’t sound the slightest bit repentant. Long fingers moved across his skin under the water before they were hastily retracted. William tried not to sigh at the loss. Louis’ hands rose above the water line as he reached over the side searching for his favorite olive soap. His movements sent currents of water across the pool, caressing William’s body. It was surprisingly intimate given Louis was still several feet away from him. Finally Louis found what he was looking for and sank down into the water once more. He passed the bar to William, deliberately brushing their hands more than necessary.
“I wasn’t kidding about needing help to wash my hair,” Louis intoned. William rolled his eyes but acquiesced. In truth, touching Louis’ hair was scarcely a hardship. They shifted slightly, Louis sitting in front of William far enough to lean back, letting his long hair fall into the water. William wet the bar of soap and carefully began working it into the strands before him, pulling gently and scratching at Louis’ scalp. Louis’ mouth dropped open at the sensation, and William grinned quickly in triumph. He continued his attentions, studying Louis’ face and mentally cataloguing his reactions.
His hands began to wander farther, caressing Louis’ neck and his earlobes, wandering down his shoulders to brush across his chest. Louis instinctively scooted backwards, closer to William. This, unfortunately, caused William’s hands to instantly still as he embarrassment blossomed on his cheeks. The space William left between them was not entirely unintentional, Louis realized. Determined to put William back at ease, and to convince him to resume his ministrations, Louis reached a hand behind him to trail down William’s side and grasp the offending body part.
The noise William made was unlike anything Louis had ever heard fall out of any woman’s mouth. It was halfway between a gasp and a groan, caught low in William’s throat as his body tightened. Louis instantly decided he wanted to hear it again. He moved his hand experimentally. Motions that felt so familiar on himself suddenly seemed foreign when another person was involved. But William made the noise again, and his hands gripped at Louis’ shoulders before they too traveled downward. Louis almost forgot to keep moving his own hand as William’s nails dug into his hip and a large palm wrapped around his length.
The room was silent except for the sound of water splashing and their harsh, panted breaths. William dropped his head and dug his teeth into Louis’ shoulder just as he tightened his grip and twisted his wrist expertly. Louis cried out and shuddered against William, his own grip tightening unintentionally. As his breathing slowly evened back out, he turned around in the water to face William. Letting their legs tangle, he leaned forward to pull William into a bruising kiss. With one hand maintaining its steady rhythm, he dragged the other one across the taller man’s chest, catching on one hard pink nipple. William panted, screwing his eyes shut, and as Louis whispered a string of incomprehensible but most assuredly dirty French into his ear, came shooting into the water between them. He opened his eyes to find Louis watching him intently.
“So, was it worth falling off that horse?” William asked with a smile. Louis made to protest, but recognized an out when he saw one and gracefully decided to take it.
“In fact I believe I feel reinvigorated already. Perhaps you are more suited to the healing arts than to regency.” Even now, Louis could not resist slipping in a subtle barb.
“And perhaps you are more suited for life in the palace than the rigors of the outdoors,” William tossed back
“On the contrary, I find my indoor activities to be quite as rigorous as those I engage in outside.” Louis smiled at him indulgently.
“Are they quite so distinct, though? I would have thought a man as flexible as yourself might be able to engage in certain activities wherever he wishes.” William knew he was pushing his luck, but to his delight Louis matched him step for step.
“Indeed, there are so many possible combinations it confounds the mind. I believe I should like to try all of them.” And with that, Louis stood up and grabbed a robe from the warming rack before sweeping from the room. William was left sitting in a rapidly cooling bathtub full of soap bubbles and come, wondering what on earth he’d just gotten himself into.
Yikes. I'm not particularly experienced writing dude-sex but here we go.
Louis lay on his cot, alone with his thoughts in the less than silent night. The damn crickets disturbed his sleep, and the shouts of revelry from the soldiers celebrating what could very well be their last day on this earth only served to annoy him. He was too tense. He’d never command troops effectively if he couldn’t get out of his own damn head. An idea occurred to him. A surefire way to relieve some stress and hopefully lull him back to sleep.
Louis loosened the laces on his britches and slipped his hand inside. He tried in vain to conjure the face of his Queen, the Spanish Infanta. He tried to imagine Madame de Montespon, waiting anxiously to shower him in affection upon his return. But no face occupied his mind more than the very man he would face tomorrow, William of Orange. Unbidden, an image formed in his brain, a memory. He tightened his grip as he thought back to the first time he and William had engaged in “amorous congress.”
- - - - - -
There had been a party, although Louis could never seem to remember what for. A masked ball, full of nobles in various states of outrageous dress, imbibing and flirting with utter abandon. Louis was normally quite fond of these balls. Despite their supposed anonymity, his form was unmistakable at the palace. This let him continue to enjoy the charms of being the adored young king-to-be, while still allowing him to indulge in the greater liberties that accompanied namelessness. Ordinarily, he would have spent the ball dancing with every pretty girl in the room, carefully weighing his options and deciding which should accompany him at the event’s close, all the while getting fully inebriated on the limitless wine available at every turn.
But not tonight. Louis had spent most of this party brooding. He was well on his way to being drunk, with nothing to show for it and no promise of future entertainment. He had ignored every girl that slowed her pace as she passed, and spoken to no one in the room besides his brother, who was now being spun around the center of the room in a most indecent way by who was undoubtedly the Chevalier de Lorraine.
There was another shining young man dancing gaily in the center of the room. Even from here, Louis was certain the golden lion mask could belong to no one but William of Orange. The dark haired beauty attached to his side looked familiar to Louis. It took only a moment to place her as the very same maiden he had left the last ball with. Thinking back to the energetic and creative interaction that had followed, his face tightened into a frown beneath his own mask.
There was no reason for him to behave like a petulant child. William hardly belonged to him. In fact, he and William had shared almost nothing, far less than what Louis himself had done with the girl he now glared daggers at. He knew William had to be similarly experienced. No Prince, and certainly no one who kissed like William did, could be considered remotely innocent.
And yet. Here Louis found himself, at the bottom of another goblet-full of wine, stubbornly refusing to dance at a dance held by his own court. Shortly after William waltzed by, bathing the girl in his dazzling smile and throwing a wink over his shoulder to Louis, Louis decided he’d had enough.
“I think I shall take the air,” he announced to no one in particular as he pushed away from the column he’d been leaning on. The ground was spinning more than he cared to admit as he pushed through countless doors and onto a terrace. He gazed out over the gardens, admiring the way the white lilies shone in the moonlight, and wondered why he felt so unsettled.
“You really don’t care for sharing, do you?” Louis whipped around at the words, stopping short as he took in the familiar figure in the lion mask. William slouched languidly against the doorway as he awaited a response.
“You can’t share what you don’t possess.” Louise turned back to face the gardens.
“You are to be king. Everything is yours to possess, is it not?”
“In France, perhaps. Someday I should like to expand my empire to include the entire world, but for now, certain foreign elements are proving … disagreeable.”
“You have a very low threshold for what constitutes being ‘disagreeable’.”
“Well what is the definition of ‘disagreeable’ then, if not ‘the lack of being agreeable’?” Louis knew they were talking around the problem, but couldn’t bring himself to let go of the semantics.
“And who said I wasn’t being agreeable?” William’s voice was closer now, directly behind his right shoulder.
“Who said we were talking about you?” Louis’ last words came out in a rush as William spun him around by the arm and stepped forward, crowding him against the railing.
“Is this what you wanted?” William asked as he leaned down and claimed Louis’ lips in a kiss. As much as it pained him to admit, yes, Louis thought, this was exactly what he wanted. He wanted to eradicate that pretty little thing with the big dark eyes from William’s mind. He wanted William’s strong hands pulling him impossibly closer as he plundered his mouth beyond reason.
“Ahem.” The two boys sprang apart at the noise, hearts pounding out of their chests. “I don’t think it would do for the future rulers of the two most powerfully opposed nations in Europe to be found humping on the terrace like a couple of whores, do you?” The Chevalier beamed as he spoke, which did nothing to calm Louis’ nerves. “It might have escaped you, but these doors are in fact made of glass, a common substance whose defining feature is the fact that one can see through it.”
William’s eyes were still wide with shock and fear, and Louis realized he must handle this situation quickly and by himself.
“I thank you for your astute observations, Chevalier. We are in total agreement. Furthermore,”
“Yes?” broke in the Chevalier, still grinning as widely as Louis had ever seen him.
“Furthermore, I don’t think it would do for anyone to hear of such an event, even if the slightest chance existed that it were true. You know how rumors spread around here.”
“I certainly do. In fact, I believe I have quite the talent for spreading them.”
“Yes. That’s the thing I would not have you do.” Louis tried his hardest to sound commanding rather than desperate.
“Very well. But know that you are in my debt. Someday you will be king. You will wield power not only in the far reaches of your territory, but within the walls of your own palace. When that day comes, I expect that debt to secure my place, not only at court but by Phillipe’s side. As you no doubt currently know, I am in a rather precarious situation. We are all well aware of the law’s current bias against … certain sensibilities. I expect you will make sure it has no effect on the lives of those at court, most particularly, me. And your brother.” The Chevalier was no longer smiling. Instead, his eyes narrowed as he stared down the future King of France.
Louis quickly assessed his options. As much as he disliked the feeling of being blackmailed, obtaining the Chevalier’s silence was a rather high priority. And allowing him to maintain his unusual place at court would hardly be the most scandalous thing happening on any given day.
“Very well. You have my word. But if you lose the favor of my brother, or breathe a word of this scene to any soul, you will know the full extent of my wrath.”
The Chevalier grinned, fluttered his fingers, and swept back through the door, no doubt on his way to engage in one kind of debauchery or another. Louis exhaled deeply and looked over at William, who still looked stunned.
“I’m sorry,” William said quickly. “The doors, the glass… I shouldn’t have…”
“Nonsense. We’ll simply have to continue this somewhere more … private.” Louis paused, waiting to see how such an invitation would be received. A blazing smile broke out across William’s face. Louis grabbed hold of his hand and led them back into the palace, rushing through the dark hallways as quickly as they could without attracting attention. William turned as if to follow the corridor that led to his rooms, but Louis pulled him in the other direction. When he opened his mouth to ask where they were going, Louis put a finger to his lips and kept walking.
Finally Louis stopped at the edge of a hallway and motioned for William to stay put. He stepped into the light, and bid the guards to abandon their posts by the door. After a moment of hesitation, they followed the command and moved silently away. Louis raced back and pulled William through an enormous door. He stopped short as he looked around and understood where Louis had taken him. The high ceilings of the French throne room swam above him; the enormous, gaudy thrones glared at him from the other side of the room.
“Really?” he breathed in disbelief.
“Why not?” Louis spoke with the arrogance of someone who had always known royalty as his birthright. “The doors lock, to ensure the privacy of official discussions. Does it displease you?” William could only shake his head dumbly.
Louis walked over to the largest throne and ripped a massive, richly embroidered throw from the back before spreading it on the floor. He stepped nearer to William, pulled his head down for a kiss, and then set about pushing him toward the floor.
“I see the time for subtly seems to have passed,” William laughed as he sat on the crimson garment.
“It seems the time for talking has also dwindled regrettably,” Louis responded. William found it hard to reply with Louis’ tongue that far down his throat, so he dedicated himself to other pursuits. He slid free the choking lace of Louis’ cravat, and began working his mouth down to taste the skin he’d uncovered. He bit down on one sharp collarbone, and was rewarded by a startled moan from Louis. Impatient to reveal more skin, he set to work fumbling with the buttons of Louis’ waistcoat. Finally impatience got the better of him and he yanked, popping off the last button as he discarded the garment to the side.
“Do you know how much that coat cost?” Louis panted into the side of his neck.
“You’re the richest man in France. Buy another one,” William muttered, unrepentant.
Louis seemed satisfied with that answer, as he pushed on William’s shoulders and shifted his weight until he straddled William’s hips. William, for his part, went easily, flopping back on the soft fabric and pulling Louis down to meet him. Their hips slotted together in the most exquisite way, further enhanced by Louis’ seemingly unconscious thrusts.
Before long, they found themselves surrounded by piles of clothes, layer upon layer discarded to afford better access. Louis forced his hand down the front of William’s tight britches, earning a hiss from them both. He watched in awe as William stripped off the offending garment, then spit into his hand before resuming his actions. William wriggled underneath him and raised his own hand to return the favor. They rutted against each other, breaths coming faster in the silence of the throne room.
“I suppose I see why my brother is so fond of this,” Louis muttered. At this, William chuckled.
“Louis, I regret to inform you that I think this is almost certainly not what your brother spends most of his time doing,” he said with a smirk. Louis looked down at him with a single cocked eyebrow. William’s shoulders shook with laughter as comprehension slowly dawned on Louis’ face, mixing with shock and more than a little curiosity. William withdrew his hand from Louis’ britches, earning him a disgruntled whine. In a single motion, he flipped them, reveling in the mild outrage on Louis’ face. With deft fingers he unfastened the laces on Louis’ britches until they were loose enough to slide off. Louis’ eyes grew wide as he watched William kiss down his chest, pausing to nibble one of his nipples before continuing down his stomach.
“I’m fairly sure this is part of it,” William breathed into the dark curls he had reached, before he occupied his mouth with something entirely different. Louis’ eyes rolled back in his head as William’s warm, wet mouth engulfed him. This wasn’t the first time someone had done this to him, but watching William’s golden curls bob, knowing his longtime rival was on his knees for him, wholly changed the experience. William’s flashing eyes were trained on Louis’ face with an intensity that stole Louis’ breath.
Louis could feel the familiar heat pooling in his belly as William twirled his tongue and hollowed his cheeks. He felt a flash of panic at the idea that this could be over already. Deep in his mind, a voice he had always ignored wondered if there might not be other things to try, a new experience entirely with which to experiment. He wondered whether he had the nerve to speak.
“And what of … the other part?” he forced out. Even to his own ears, his voice sounded wrecked. William pulled off immediately, gaze darkening. It made Louis squirm.
“What of it?” he asked, voice lower and rougher than Louis had ever heard it. He stared steadily at Louis, utterly still. He’s going to make me say it, Louis thought.
“It seems … foolish to live by halves. If one is to … claim a new experience, one should do it … entirely.” The words sounded stilted and Louis cursed his ineloquence. William should not have this power over him, the ability to rob him of words.
Louis sat up and scooted away from the blanket, clearing a space for William to lie down. This time William was the one with the baffled look on his face, until he understood Louis’ subtle direction and glaringly large assumptions. He raised an eyebrow to Louis, who remained motionless.
“Louis… Do you trust me?” William asked, certain this was not going to go well.
“Of course not!” Louis exclaimed. William flinched back, surprised by how stung he felt.
“I’m sorry. Yes.” Louis amended quickly.
“Then trust me,” William said simply.
“I’m the King of France! I am not a tulip-tending whore who will spread her legs for some common Dutch ‘prince’. You’re lucky-” Louis temper flared, but William cut him off.
“We are currently on the floor of your throne room. Do you think I could possibly have forgotten who you are? As if- you are a spoiled French son-of, whereas I will rule because it is the will of my people. You more than anyone know me to be your equal in all ways. Do not presume I will forget my own value simply because you throw your birthright in my face.” William, ordinarily known for his self-control, had given in to his frustrations. Would Louis ever get past his insecurity and the shield of superiority he carried along with it? William had little patience for being continually disrespected.
Louis gasped as William pushed him down onto the blanket and trapped him there with his body. Instead of finding hands locked around his throat however, William’s hands traveled teasingly down his sides as he reclaimed Louis’ mouth. Something went quiet in Louis’ head as he settled back and surrendered to the kiss.
It wasn’t until he went to brush a lock of hair out of William’s sparkling green eyes that he realized his hands were being held above his head. One of William’s hands fit easily around Louis’ thin wrists and he squeezed, gently, in warning as Louis made to struggle. Louis went dead still, as did William. Ignoring his immediate reaction of indignation, Louis carefully analyzed his own feelings. There could be no ignoring the jolt that one squeeze had sent down his body.
“Do that again,” he breathed. At that, William came alive. His grip strengthened on Louis’ captured hands, and he leaned down to bite fiercely at the juncture of Louis’ neck and shoulder. After another minute, he released Louis and got up, walking over to where his jacket lay abandoned across the room.
“Where are you going?” Louis asked, the sound of his pout seeping into his voice. William walked back toward him, but then seemed to reconsider and detoured. When, after what felt like an eternity, he made it back to the blanket, he sported a reckless smile.
“I had to procure the necessary supplies,” William grinned as he pulled from behind his back a small bottle of oil and, to Louis’ shock, the crown that had been hanging only moments ago off the large throne at the back of the room. “For tonight, you are already the King of France.” He placed the crown on Louis’ head and kissed the arrogant smirk that was growing on Louis’ face. He then made to un-stopper the bottle.
“Where did you get that?” Louis attention snapped back to the scene in front of him, more than a little apprehensive about what might happen.
“The Chevalier gifted it to me earlier this evening. For some reason, he thought I might find it useful…” Louis felt outrage rise in his once again, but this time with less force.
“Why did he give it to you? What makes him so sure that you would find yourself in this position?” William rolled his eyes.
“Perhaps he is afraid of making such presumptions to his King. Or maybe he’s a psychic and has secretly divined all of your deepest desires.” The frown remained etched on Louis’ face. “Come on Louis, that was meant in jest. After all, weren’t you the one talking about not living by halves? Experiencing things entirely? Let me give you this experience.”
With a longsuffering sigh that seemed more dramatic than genuine, Louis lay back on the blanket. He pulled the crown off of his head and examined it thoroughly before replacing it, smile restored. William removed the cork from the bottle and poured some onto his fingers before leaning down and pressing a kiss to the inside of Louis’ knee. The scent of vanilla rose through the air as he spread Louis’ legs wider and experimentally slid his fingers between them. Louis hissed but didn’t move away.
William continued his cautious exploration, watching Louis’ face for any sign of pain. Although he was vaguely familiar with the theory of homosexual relations, he found the reality considerably more confusing. He wondered if perhaps he could obtain an instruction manual before continuing. Alas, that didn’t seem likely, so throwing caution to the winds he dispensed more oil and slowly inserted his finger.
Louis’ eyes widened and he briefly contemplated calling the whole thing off. But the idea of showing such defeat before William sent a rush of hot shame into his belly.
“Breathe, Louis,” William’s voice reached his ears from what seemed like far away. He hadn’t realized he’d been holding his breath. As he purposefully released the air in his lungs, William added another finger and then twisted them. He gasped, not sure if he felt pleasure or pain, until William scissored his fingers, brushing against his insides, and Louis’ vision went white.
Louis was shocked to find himself pushing back against William’s hand, desperate to repeat whatever he’d just done. William was transfixed by the sight of Louis, entirely lost to pleasure at his doing.
“More,” whined Louis, and was sorely disappointed when William removed his hand entirely. He lifted his head to see William pouring the last of the oil onto his cock and stroking himself a few times to spread it around. With a burning look, William positioned himself against Louis and slowly pushed inside. He paused when he found his hips flush with Louis’, giving him time to adjust. As he began to move, pumping his hips in a smooth, steady rhythm, his oiled hand found Louis’ cock. Soon their movements grew frantic, pushing against each other in a way that felt surprisingly like their usual sparring. The difference, of course, was that normally they had clothes on, and no one got to come.
“Please, William…” Louis’ voice shook as he felt himself nearing the edge of oblivion. He dug his nails into William’s backside, pulling William into him with even greater force. William wound a hand into Louis’ hair, drawing his head up for a kiss. Louis’ lips stuttered against William’s as he spasmed and came, feeling the mess land sticky on his stomach. William gasped as Louis clenched around him involuntarily, and it only took a few more thrusts before he spent inside of Louis.
William dropped his head down to rest on Louis’ shoulder, breathing heavily. Louis felt a smile curl up on his lips unbidden. Somehow everything that should feel uncomfortable, his sweat and William’s boneless weight on top of him and the come drying between them, didn’t seem uncomfortable at all. Louis was just considering the possibility of curling up to sleep, when William lifted himself up on his forearms and pushed away from Louis. Brushing a sweaty lock of hair off of Louis’ face, William removed the crown from his head and pressed a kiss to his lips. Replacing the pilfered golden band where it hung from the throne, he turned back to Louis.
“Come now, my king,” William said, voice dripping with irony. “We can hardly be discovered here in the morning.”
“I think I just did,” Louis shot back, “But you are not wrong.”
- - - - -
Alone in his tent, Louis’ hand moved even more rapidly on his painfully hard cock. His eyes clenched shut as he remembered how beautiful William had looked, thoroughly debauched and triumphant in the moonlight, steeling silently through the halls and back to Louis’ chambers. He wondered what William would be like now. With so many years since their last encounter, surely his confidence and expertise had only grown. He would probably be able to take Louis apart with embarrassing ease. With that thought, Louis came with a cry, feeling more lonely than ever.
No smut in this one, just battle and angst.
William rose early from his tent that morning, filled with the prickling anticipation that always preceded battle. His plan was sound, of that he was sure. But the timing… So very much depended on the timing. He strode past the officers moving pieces around the board in the war room, straight toward the telescope positioned exactly on the highest point of the hill.
He leaned down and scanned the French camp. There was little to observe at this early hour. A few cooks tending fires, and some stable boys leading around horses. It did not look like a camp about to incite a battle, but William had to trust his intelligence. Sighing, he put down the telescope and went to break his fast. Still, he ordered his men to ready themselves at the front. It wouldn’t do to be caught unawares by Louis’ men.
William was just returning from a morning trip to the latrine when his drummer’s head exploded. William halted abruptly, wiped a stripe of gore off of his face (how had that reached all the way over here?) and rushed into the war room.
“It is time. Strike now.” Within moments, an orange-clad messenger on horseback departed from camp, galloping at full speed. William waited, holding his breath. If he had misjudged… If he had waited too long… The consequences could be devastating. His heart beat in his throat as he saw the French line finally break, a veritable sea of blue-jacketed men rushing toward their camp.
“Hold!” he called to his men. He glanced nervously to his left. Nothing yet. The French forces were halfway down the hill now. Time was running out.
Then, graced by God alone, he saw the rush of water shooting through the valley from the shattered dike. For a moment, it looked like the French might ford the unexpected river. Then suddenly, horses began to fall, their feet pulled out from under them by the rushing current. Returning to the telescope, William focused the view just in time to watch Louis himself plummet into the water.
William felt like he was 16 all over again, the way triumph and disquiet mingled in his gut at the sight. The last time he had watched such a scene, he had been the one to pull Louis to his feet, to mend him back to full health. Now, he watched with a grim smile as Louis struggled in the mud. He wasn’t sure how much he liked this new version of himself.
William released his men as the French forces fell into chaos, watched them plunge into battle like a well-balanced scythe. He turned away from the bloodshed.
“Stadtholder, I just received word that Louis and his advisors have fled, retreating to a nearby Abbey,” his intelligence officer said in a rush. William smiled.
“Berend! Gather a riding party. I have a meeting to attend.”
- - - - - - -
“Shelter for the King! Shelter for the King!” a voice called out. Louis stormed into the Abbey, still dripping with mud. Throwing his ruined coat to the ground, he turned on his officers.
“We had superior forces, and a superior armory. How in God’s name did that happen?” he bellowed. Louvois hastened to reply, stumbling over meaningless words. Louis continued to rail against them, spittle flying from his mouth as he raged.
“Gentlemen, this is a House of God,” the abbess exclaimed from behind him.
“I know God, Abbess! God speaks through me!” Louis would not be calmed.
“You have a visitor, sire,” she continued. Time seemed to slow down. Louis was unsure whether it was dread or anticipation that filled him as he turned to see William of Orange, as vibrant and impressive as ever, impassively watching his temper tantrum. William’s eyes bored into him as he sighed, lowering his sword. Very well, he thought. What’s done is done. There seemed to be no avoiding William now.
“I am hardly prepared to take visitors at the moment. They may speak with me over supper. Until then, I will retire to my rooms. Abbess?” Louis spoke with as much composure as a man covered in mud and foaming at the mouth could possibly muster.
After drawing a bath and obtaining a change of clothes, Louis stood alone in his room, facing the single window. Christ. How many years had passed, since he’d seen that face? Louis thought back to the last time he’d seen William. He had been wasting time in the salon, cheerfully betting outrageous sums of money on games of chance, when William had burst into the room. All traces of decorum forgotten, he rushed to Louis’ table and knelt beside his chair.
“I must speak with you. Now.” Louis had never heard William sound so panicked. Dropping his cards, he forced back the chair and followed William from the room and out onto a terrace. He smiled as he recognized it as the same terrace they had met on after the masked ball, less than a week prior.
“I am leaving.” William said it quickly, in a flat voice.
“What? Why? If an agreement had been reached, there would at least be one last feast of celebration.” The smile slipped off Louis’ face as he struggled to understand.
“Don’t you get it? No agreement between our two countries can ever be reached.” William’s voice was ragged with frustration and fear. “Why do you think it’s dragged on thus? I never should have been here this long. My party has decided they are wasting their time, and plan to leave unannounced before morning.”
Louis gasped. To do so would be the height of rudeness. It was clear the Dutch planned never to set foot in France again, if they contemplated such a blatant insult. But more importantly, “And you’ll go with them?”
William laughed without humor. “Of course. What else should I do?”
“Stay here with me.” Louis knew it was an impossible idea even as the words left his mouth. William evidently agreed.
“As what? Your house pet? You know as well as I do that I have a future in Holland. Would you give up your throne to follow me there?” Louis stayed silent. The sound echoed in William’s ears. “Goodbye, Louis. I fear the next time we meet will be significantly less pleasurable.” With that, William had kissed him once, and left the terrace without looking back.
And now William was here, fulfilling his own prophecy. There could be nothing pleasurable about dining with the man who was responsible for both Louis’ humiliating defeat and his face full of mud.
- - - - - -
Gravel crunched under his feet as William strolled through the garden. Pausing beside the fountain, he glanced down at his reflection. His eyes raked over the planes of his own face, distorted by the movements of the pond. He noticed the faint lines carved into his forehead, the determined set of his jaw, the way it pulled his lips downward into a slight frown. His eyes stared back at him, dogged and shadowed and above all, tired. He tried to superimpose the image of his teenage self onto the reflection, to catalogue all the ways he’d changed.
Moving away from the fountain, William wandered among the flowers. He reached out to examine a most unusual blue rose, but snatched back his hand at once. Blood dripped off his finger, staining the petals. One could never afford to forget, he reflected, that beauty and danger were almost always intimately acquainted. Louis alone should have taught him that.
Louis was certainly still beautiful, William thought. Perhaps it took a generous eye to see him as such, mud-stained and apoplectic with fury, but it was true nonetheless. Although the marks of age were as evident on Louis as on William himself, he seemed to have changed remarkably little. His pride, his white-hot anger, his hatred of losing, were all very much intact.
Over the passing years however, Louis did seem to have developed one new trait: an all-encompassing hatred of William. The look in Louis’ eyes earlier, when he turned and recognized William… a cold sort of feeling had bled through William’s limbs as they made eye contact. Louis’ apathetic dismissal as he left for his rooms seemed genuine. Whatever residual feelings William may have harbored all these years, they appeared to be entirely one-sided.
This, William knew, put him at a distinct disadvantage going into their imminent meeting. The best situation, of course, would have been for Louis to continue pining for him while William moved on, affording him easy leverage in any negotiations. Also acceptable would have been for both of them to forget the past, negotiating as opposing forces and nothing else. And yet, a third option buzzed around William’s mind, one that he was unable to extinguish despite knowing it to be impossible. The very best possibility would be for Louis to return his feelings, and for them to put this miserable war business behind them.
I'm mainly quoting dialogue directly from the show here so all credit where it's due. I have altered and/or condensed things where it suited the story better. No smut in this one, just "negotiating", but it's coming I promise! (Yes Karissa that was intentional)
William sat in an ornately carved but decidedly uncomfortable chair, and stared across the long table at Louis. Despite the change of clothes, Louis still appeared flustered from his time on the battlefield. William smiled. This proved all the provocation Louis required to open the conversation. William responded without really listening, their razor-sharp rapport as natural as it had ever been. He hesitated. Then,
“Ever since I was a child I dreamt of meeting you,” William said truthfully.
“And beating me on the field of battle?” Louis finished.
“Of course,” William responded, stopping himself before he could reveal any of the other things he had dreamt of doing Louis.
Louis continued to talk, tossing words across the table with no purpose other than to force William to respond. William’s eyebrows quirked in annoyance at the puerile exchange. Still, he found himself leaning forward across the table as they sparred, instinctively drawing closer to Louis.
“Give me one good reason why I should not have you killed?” Louis asked.
“Because you do not wish me dead.” William spoke with considerably more confidence than he felt, but he held his gaze steady on Louis’ face.
“No. Without an enemy you would have no purpose, a gust of wind with nothing to blow against.” William sat back in his chair. He chose not to mention any of the other reasons Louis might not want him dead, but he hoped Louis was thinking of them too.
Louis blustered, trying to regain his footing. He spoke as if he had not just suffered a resounding defeat only hours before. William grew quickly tired of the display. He cut Louis off.
“You are now playing with a much weaker hand. Your men are exhausted, you’re unable to advance, you’re running out of supplies, and half of Europe is joining an alliance against you. I have Spain, Prussia, and the Holy Roman Empire behind me,” William said cheerfully.
Louis remained silent for a moment, lips twisting with irritation.
“Why did you come here?” Louis asked, instead of responding.
“To make you a proposition.”
“What sort of proposition?” Though Louis’ tone was even, William thought he could detect a hint of amusement, the faintest reference to the kinds of interactions they’d once shared.
“If we are to continue these discussions, I insist we do so in private.” William felt slightly unbalanced by the dancing wordplay and proximity to Louis. He wondered if the quickest way to achieve direct communication would be to smash the barricades, to throw all of the cutting things he could say right at Louis’ feet. If that was how things were to progress, there could be no audience.
Scuffling noises filled the air as the room cleared. William sighed and made to remove his sword.
“No. It’s alright.” Louis’ response surprised him only slightly. Louis had always found any possible way to subtly announce his power and confidence. William laid the sword on the table between them anyway. William made to speak, but Louis stopped him.
“Shhhh. Do you hear it?” The only thing William could hear was the blood rushing in his ears as his frustrations rose. He had never been “shushed” in his life, and found he was not fond of the experience.
“The silence that accompanies power?” Louis continued. A smile grew on his face. William wondered whether it was possible he only imagined the condescension dripping from it.
“I hear nothing,” William said impatiently. Louis shrugged.
“Tell me about your proposition.”
William drew in a fortifying breath before speaking.
“I propose an alliance."
“With me? Why?” Louis sounded surprised, but not displeased.
“Because we are the leaders of the two most powerful countries in Europe. Instead of squabbling here, why do we not join forces and take over the rest of the world?” William stood as he spoke, moving around the table until he stood before Louis. Louis looked up at him for a moment, lips parted, before he spoke again.
“And you have discussed this with your existing allies?”
“Of course not.”
“I call that treachery.”
“Are you interested in my offer, or not?” William snapped.
“Let me tell you what happens next.” Louis rose out of his seat, his face only inches away from William’s. “You are feeling confident. You will launch a counterattack, perhaps even re-take a few towns. And then my forces will rally, and you will start to lose. Your people will start to question their new leader. And you, will have sleepless nights.” Louis stepped around him, resting a hand on William’s shoulder for only an instant before drawing it across his back as he walked away.
“You will ask yourself, ‘Did I do the right thing?’ ‘Have I led my country to ruin?’ And at that moment you will send a messenger, begging me for a truce. And I shall say no. I shall brush you off, like a speck of dirt from my cuff.” Louis’ eyes burned with intensity as he stared William down, speaking from across the table once more.
William swiped his tongue across his lips as he tried desperately to clear his head. “You underestimate the value of allies, not just in one’s ranks. How else do you suppose I found you?” he spat.
Louis was saved from having to respond by the entrance of a Sister, bearing wine. Both men abstained, and she left the room.
“I can end life; I can give life. I bring truth; I bring lies. I am heard, but not seen. Who am I?” Louis recited suddenly. “It’s a riddle,” he explained, when William remained silent.
“Do you toy with me?” William half expected the answer to be “Louis,” if not for the last clue. Everything Louis did was designed to catch the eye. This William knew- for Louis had managed to catch his, and to hold it for an unreasonably long time.
“No, merely trying to lighten the mood.”
William snorted in a most undignified way. He knew Louis to be well versed in the arts of psychological warfare. Lightening the mood was hardly on his agenda.
“Why do you refuse an alliance?” William asked again.
“Because alliances are based on trust.”
“You do not trust me.” The weight of the words on his tongue struck William like a blow, calling to mind a similar conversation in such a very different context. He wondered if Louis was remembering it too.
“You are in the process of betraying your current allies. What is there to say you wouldn’t do the same to me?” Louis turned to face William. His eyes didn’t match his detached tone. They swirled with emotions and answers he left unvoiced.
“What is this really about?” William asked, fed up with diplomacy.
“Do you even need to ask?” Louis asked. Unconsciously they moved toward each other, until they stood toe to toe. “You would do well to remember that no one knows better than I your penchant for slithering out of promises, for quietly abandoning people and leaving them to drown in your wake.”
“Hold your tongue!” William burst out, surprised by his own vehemence.
“It’s odd. You had a reputation for reserve and self-control. You will now have a reputation for being a cowardly dog. It’s time someone other than I knew it.” Louis added quietly.
William seized his sword from the table and stormed through the door behind Louis.
“The first rule of diplomacy, my friend. Never show anger.” Louis’ words echoed against the stone, ringing through William’s head as he fled down the hall.
William collapsed on the small bed in his room and found he was shaking. Anger, exhilaration, arousal, and guilt sloshed around inside him, making his head spin. How dare Louis accuse him of cowardice, of betrayal? How could he think, for even an instant, that William was to blame for anything that had happened? How could he not realize that William had been despondent for weeks, distracted and subdued enough upon his return to Holland that even De Witt began to query what was wrong?
As his breathing evened out, a new thought occurred to William. Perhaps he had misjudged Louis’ feelings earlier in the day. They still had an enormous effect on each other, that much was obvious. And didn’t Louis’ lingering anger suggest that he still felt the pain of being wrenched apart? Could that mean Louis maintained some amount of affection for him? That what he had taken for hatred was, in fact, bitter loneliness and longing?
William pushed himself into a seated position as his mind raced. This changed everything. He was no longer at an insurmountable disadvantage. Perhaps there was still something to be won.
- - - - -
Louis paced around the borders of the room. His eyes kept landing on the door through which William had left. He ran a hand through his hair in frustration, only to find it caught in the tangles and knots that had accumulated throughout this long and miserable day. Although he had admonished William for showing his anger, it was he who had revealed himself.
He blamed William entirely. Louis cursed the Dutchman’s stupid smirk, his playful innuendos. What else could have caused him to forget himself so entirely? He had certainly not planned on saying any of that when he sat down to negotiate.
His musings were cut short as the man in question walked back into the room. Louis looked away quickly. He couldn’t bear for William to think he’d been staring at the door, impatiently awaiting his return, even if, he reflected, that wasn’t terribly far from the truth. Perhaps especially not then.
They sat again at the large table in the center of the room, this time forgoing their chairs at the heads of the table so that only a short distance separated them.
“Did I mention Maastricht?” Louis asked abruptly.
If William was surprised by his sudden return to more official topics of discussion, he hid it well. His head tilted just slightly, one eyebrow twitching as if it wanted to raise in question, before his face returned to its usual mask.
“Impossible. I offer Orsoy in its place.”
“The small town on the Rhine with a population of 500, boasting a church, two taverns, and a linen factory?” Louis scoffed. “I took it three days ago. No. I want Maastricht.”
“Maastricht.” Louis took note of the small pout growing on William’s lips, and considered it a personal victory.
“It is not mine to give. It belongs to the Spanish.”
“Tell them to give it to me. They’re your allies.” This was comfortable. He knew how to relate to William like this, fighting to gain ground against a perfectly matched opponent.
The Abbess entered the room and announced something about the progress of their dinner. Both men ignored her. They maintained eye contact for another endless moment, and then Louis pushed back his chair and stood up.
“You should lighten your mood from time to time,” he said pleasantly, as he turned to leave. “I hear physical activity is a wonderful tonic.” He hoped William would catch the teasing note in his voice.
“My mood is my own concern,” William spluttered.
“Well perhaps it’s your clothes then,” Louis continued. He considered the ramifications of adding ‘You could take them off’.
“Who knows? A touch more orange?” he said instead. He fixed William with a pointed stare, and smirked as the other man squirmed under his gaze. William was making this far too easy.
With that, Louis swept from the room. He could feel William’s eyes boring into his back but refused the temptation to look back at him. He climbed the stairs that led to his room, listening closely for the sound of footsteps reverberating against the stone. He left the door purposefully ajar as he leant over the washbasin and splashed his face.
By the time he looked up from the rough towel the nuns had provided, William had appeared in the doorway. The hunger in his eyes was unmistakable as he slowly shut the door behind him.
“Perhaps you misheard the nuns’ directions? It appears you’ve gotten lost on the way to your rooms,” Louis started, feigning surprise in a most unconvincing manner.
“Oh do shut up.” William crossed the room in two long strides and seized Louis’ face, silencing him with a kiss.
This one follows directly from the previous chapter, so I included the first few lines for continuity.
“Perhaps you misheard the nuns’ directions? It appears you’ve gotten lost on the way to your rooms,” Louis started, feigning surprise in a most unconvincing manner.
“Oh do shut up.” William crossed the room in two long strides and seized Louis’ face, silencing him with a kiss.
William’s fingers dug into him as he attacked Louis’ mouth, all of their pent up frustration finally igniting. Louis responded in kind, gripping the collar of William’s coat to pull him closer. He couldn’t tell which one of them moved first but suddenly they were rushing, knocking over anything in their path as they stumbled toward the bed.
The edge of the bed hit the back of Louis’ knees and he fell back, dragging William with him. They landed heavily, breaking apart for a moment as Louis scrambled further up the bed. William didn’t move to follow him, but instead began yanking at the laces of Louis’ britches, which were now level with his face.
After what felt like an eternity, William succeeded in freeing Louis’ cock from its confines and began to suck with great enthusiasm. Louis’ head dropped back onto the bed as he surrendered to William’s mouth. No matter how many times he relived this experience, the reality was infinitely better than his memories. How could he have forgotten how good William was at this? Unless William had gotten better at this particular skill, perhaps through extensive practice. The thought simultaneously enraged and aroused Louis.
Hauling William up by the shoulders, Louis rolled on top of him. He pulled impatiently at the layers of clothing William wore, throwing them over the side of the bed with a flourish. There were few things Louis appreciated more than the sight of William laid bare before him. To Louis’ surprise, William didn’t struggle; he seemed content to simply lie beneath Louis, staring up through his lashes.
Not entirely convinced this wasn’t a particularly vivid dream, Louis resolved to make the most of it. He leaned down and began to suck bruises onto every inch of skin he could reach. William’s whole body tensed when Louis bit into one pale hipbone, unable to stifle the moan that fell from his lips. He let out a little huff of air as Louis’ hair trailed across his ribs, and Louis made a mental note that William was ticklish.
Louis continued downward, until he could take William’s cock in his mouth. He savored the weight of it on his tongue. He thought back to the last time he’d done this, years ago, with William in a dusty, hay-smelling corner of the stables. William’s hand threaded through his hair and tightened reflexively. Louis gradually pressed William’s knee up until his foot was flat on the bed. William, who was busy pushing down on Louis’ head, didn’t seem to notice until Louis’ fingers began to wander down between his legs.
William’s head shot up. Louis laughed around his cock, which made William shudder and suck in a breath. Pulling away, Louis swiped his tongue across his lips before speaking.
“Have I offended your delicate sensibilities?” Louis mocked.
“Hardly,” William bit back. “You merely … surprised me.”
“I believe you’ve done entirely too much conquering for one day. It might go to your head.” Louis said with a smirk. William studied him for a minute, before seeming to accept Louis’ words as the concession that they were. He shrugged, reaching up to pull Louis into a fierce kiss before lying back on the bed.
“Go on then. Dazzle me with your skills.” He fixed Louis with an expectant stare. Louis cursed the blush he felt rise on his cheeks.
“I never said… You can hardly expect… It’s not as if I’ve done this before,” he stuttered. William surprised him by laughing.
“Believe it or not, that doesn’t surprise me,” he said dryly. “You look like a scared rabbit.”
The words had exactly their intended effect. Louis bristled at the challenge, and pressed William into the bed as he reclaimed his mouth. Louis pulled his mouth away, earning a disappointed whine from William, and brushed his fingers along William’s lips. William wasted no time sucking them into his mouth to coat them thoroughly with spit.
Louis trailed his hands back down William’s body to resume his previous explorations. William bit at Louis’ jaw, taking away the sting with a rasp of his tongue. Louis marveled at the way William’s eyes widened and his jaw fell open as he pushed a finger inside of him.
Louis shifted his finger, then added another, cataloguing William’s reactions to every movement. He felt a rush of pride when William fisted the blanket beneath him, throwing his head to the side and squeezing his eyes shut. This was a kind of power he hadn’t yet tasted.
When William panted out, “Louis… I need…” Louis willingly replaced his fingers with his cock. He let out a groan as every rational thought was eradicated by the sensation of William surrounding him. He closed his eyes and rocked into William before forcing them open again. He couldn’t stand to miss a single expression that flickered across William’s face.
When Louis’ shoulders began to tremble with exertion, shifted until he stood at the edge of the bed. William followed easily, wrapping his legs around Louis’ hips and pulling him deeper. Without thinking about it, Louis reached out with one hand and threaded their fingers together. With the other, he grasped William’s cock, determined to draw more of those delicious needy whines from him.
Louis let out a strangled moan, fingers clutching at William like a vice as his orgasm hit unexpectedly. He stilled for a moment, blinking stars out of his vision, before rededicating himself to the task at hand. He gripped William tighter, using his other hand to push the hair back from his face and draw William into a kiss.
William’s nails raked down his back, splitting the skin there as he came, groaning into Louis’ mouth. Louis’ head swam as William’s entire body tightened around him. As William’s muscles slowly relaxed, his eyes fluttered open to meet Louis’.
“It appears you have conquered me,” William chuckled.
“Indeed. And have I also succeeded in lightening your mood?” Louis responded teasingly.
“It is unclear. It seems I am wearing even less orange now than I was before.” William gestured to his bare skin. Louis’ eyes followed hungrily.
“Then perhaps the lack of orange wasn’t your problem.”
"Whatever else could it be?” William asked with mock confusion.
“Sexual frustration,” Louis growled, before kissing William again. Suddenly, he pulled back with a mischievous glint in his eye. “You know, I still want Maastricht.”
William rolled his eyes but smiled nonetheless. “That will not be possible.”
- - - - - -
William sat down, fully clothed once more, across from Louis. To either side, their various ministers and advisors ate at large wooden tables. Raising a glass of wine, he examined Louis’ face over the rim. With the reappearance of their respective entourages, Louis’ face had solidified into a blank mask once again. William studied the purple mark blooming just below his ear and grinned. That would prove harder to conceal.
“Why did you go to war?” William asked conversationally.
“Why does anyone go to war?”
“You’re not anyone,” William countered. He sighed to himself. Truer words had never been spoken.
“Because I am King,” Louis shot back. ‘As you should well know,’ William heard attached, though Louis did not speak it. William glanced again at the men surrounding them. To get through this meal without revealing anything untoward would be a miracle.
“Your brother is a far greater commander than you,” he said, simply because he knew it would irritate Louis.
“We shall see.” Louis remained impressively calm. Perhaps he had matured since their last meeting.
“Afraid he’ll cast his shadow over you?” William pressed. Louis’ mouth dropped open.
“Who told you that?” he demanded. William smiled. Or perhaps not. He wasn’t entirely sure why he felt so compelled to disturb the delicate truce they held between them.
“It torments you, doesn’t it? The knowledge that someone very close to you is in fact a traitor?” Images of all the other, significantly more pleasurable ways he could torment Louis filled William’s mind. “Who is it? A general? Your brother? Your wife?” William paused before sinking the final blow. “Perhaps the Marquise de Montespan?”
“I find it stuffy in here,” Louis blurted. The chair clattered behind him as he stood up. “I think I shall take the air.” And with that he was gone.
William eyed the empty space across the table. Interesting. He seemed to have struck a nerve. Was Louis so taken with this woman that he would not hear a word against her? Or was he loath to be reminded of his other entanglements with his mind still full of William? William sighed. That one sounded far-fetched even to his own ears, but a man could hope.
Abandoning his food, he followed Louis out into the night. Coming to a stop beside him, he found Louis looking far more shaken than his taunts seemed to warrant.
“Words,” William said. “The answer to your riddle is words.”
“Very clever of you,” Louis bit out, clearly in no mood for games. He turned and walked away.
“I meant no offense,” William started as he hastened to catch up.
“Of course you did,” Louis cut him off.
“Very well, Perhaps my intentions were not entirely … benevolent, but I intended only to spar with you as we have always done. Instead, you are upset.”
“Much can change over the course of time. I live now in a world you couldn’t even imagine. I am not the man you once knew.”
“Indeed. Since we last met, you have built yourself a golden birdcage in which all the prisoners sing for your attention, and their freedom. Tell me, is it comfortable? Do you sleep well at night?”
“I will sleep far better when I have defeated you, and stricken all traces of your treasonous informants from my court.”
“We have been over this,” William sighed. “As you and I both know, you do not wish me dead.”
“Sometimes, you make me reconsider,” Louis retorted.
“Didn’t you once tell me that physical activity could be a tonic? Perhaps you would find sleep to be less elusive if you were … properly exhausted first. I would be more than happy to aid you in that pursuit.” William tried desperately to restore the playful mood they had previously shared.
“Sixteen million,” Louis said abruptly.
“I beg your pardon?” William asked.
“You pay me sixteen million guilders, and I agree to an alliance.”
“I shall have to think about that.”
“Don’t think about it. Take a decision. Be a man.” Louis challenged. William’s head spun. The last time he’d heard those words from Louis, he’d been 16, kneeling awkwardly on top of a bed and trying to muster the courage to kiss him.
“Do you think me a common whore? I do not make a habit of resorting to bribery.”
“Certainly not, as you have demonstrated you require no incentive to perform the services of a whore.” Louis said coldly. William’s mouth dropped open.
“I think you came to war not to fight me, but to escape the hell that Versailles has become,” he spat, nearly shaking with anger.
“I shall bear that in mind.” Louis turned away yet again, and strode back into the abbey. William watched him leave, then looked out over the gardens. Looking up at the moon, he wondered if things could ever be easy between them.
More smut! William resorts to mind games to get Louis to talk to him.
When he finally stumbled on the room Louis had taken refuge in, William found him slumped in an armchair, watching the fire crackle. He looked exhausted. William wondered for a moment if he should abandon his current plan and sweep Louis into his arms instead. He wished the answer could be that simple, but he knew Louis. Louis would never accept what he saw as belittlement.
He set the large box down on the table beside Louis with a muffled thud.
“This is for you,” he said mildly.
“What is it?” Louis cast his eyes over the box.
“I am in no mood for gifts.” Louis looked away, turning back to the fire.
“You haven’t seen it yet,” William chided as he opened the lid. “Her name is Leyak,” he explained, holding the mask up for Louis to see. “She is a widow witch, from Java. In the daytime, she appears as a normal human being but by night, she seeks out a pregnant woman to suck her baby’s blood. Charming, don’t you think?” He glanced over at Louis from the corner of his eye. Louis remained silent as he examined the mask.
“You’re scared, aren’t you?” William asked suddenly.
“Of everything. You’re scared that the edifice you’ve created will collapse, and drag you down with it. You claim you’re chosen by God, but what if you’re just like the rest of us mere mortals?” He walked toward Louis and knelt at his feet, eyes burning up at him. “What if the castle you’ve built has no foundation?”
“You are a fool,” Louis said evenly.
“You’re scared of me, scared that I might defeat you, or that I might truly be better than you. And you’re scared of yourself. You’re scared of your own desires,” William continued. He rose, walking towards the fire so Louis could not see his face.
“You must be keen to return to the eager arms of the Madame de Montespan. No doubt she too could offer you respite from your sleepless nightmares,” William pushed harder.
“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” Louis said, setting the mask back in the box.
“But I do. That’s what’s bothering you. They say she is both witty and beautiful, and holds you completely under her sway,” William said, repressing the urge to ask ‘Would you not chose me over her?’
“I suggest we change subjects.” Louis stood up, coming to stand only inches away from William.
“In Holland, we have a saying: it is vanity, that blinds us to our own blindness,” William said sagely. “You appear to be blind to a great many things, though they stand clearly before you.”
“I see well enough.”
“Do you not fear being under the control of a woman? You are a King. Surely you have knowledge and experiences she could not possibly comprehend. But I could,” William muttered the last part under his breath before pressing on. “She must be some woman. Perhaps it is with her I should be negotiating instead.”
Louis froze for an endless moment before he spun, seizing the mask and hurling it into the flames.
“I do not care for your gift!”
William jumped back from the shower of sparks but smiled to himself. They finally seemed to be getting somewhere.
“Oh dear, I fear His Majesty is unwell,” he sneered. “Was it something I said?”
“You speak of things you do not know!”
“Tell me then! If I do not understand, perhaps it is for your lack of explanation.” William shouted in frustration.
“Fine!” Louis whipped around, the flames dancing in his eyes. “What do you wish to know? That I mourned your absence every day since you left the palace? That although I am surrounded by ministers, I crave no advice above yours? That for every single lover I have taken, every luscious court beauty I have sampled, not a single one has ever rivaled your touch?”
Louis broke off, as if words had failed him. His eyes were wild, panicked, as he searched William’s face. William opened his mouth to reply, then gave up and kissed Louis instead.
“I thought you hated me,” he mumbled against Louis’ lips.
“I did. But only because I could not rid myself of love for you,” Louis replied. “And because you left me. And because you sent me plummeting into the mud this morning,” he added after a pause.
William laughed. “Was that only this morning? It feels as if so much has happened since then.”
“Indeed. Imagine how much else can happen before morning,” Louis intoned, pulling William behind him up the stone staircase.
They crashed into the bed, a tangle of limbs and half-removed clothing. William smoothed his thumbs across Louis’ cheekbones and probed his eyes.
“I have dreamed of little else, these passing years, than to know your touch once again. To taste you. You are not the only one with a long memory,” he said seriously.
Louis dragged his face down for a kiss, at once passionate and lingering. William trailed his nails across Louis’ belly, causing him to gasp into the kiss. Louis reached down, palming William through his britches until he trembled with need.
William slung an arm across Louis’ chest, pinning him down as he tugged off his britches. Louis made as if to protest, but it was clear he was fighting to lose. A lazy smile appeared on his face when William finished his task and rolled back on top of him.
Caging Louis in with his arms and pressing their hips flush together, William leaned in and breathed, “Surrender is not only for the weak, you know.” Louis sighed and gave himself to the attentions William was lavishing upon him. This time it was he who wrapped his legs around William, unbidden, delirious with want for the man he’d waited for, for so very long.
The look in William’s eyes was almost reverential as he slid inside Louis, gliding his hands over every piece of skin he could reach. Without warning, he snapped his hips forward, driving into the spot that made Louis cry out with pleasure. William let out a choked moan as Louis clenched around him, rolling his hips.
Taking advantage of his distraction, Louis pushed on William’s shoulders until he rolled onto his back. A sly grin painted Louis’ face as he straddled William, sinking back down so fast William gasped and writhed underneath him. Louis planted a hand on William’s chest for leverage and rose up on his knees.
This time William was ready for him. He bucked his hips up just as Louis sank back, and was rewarded with an absolutely wrecked noise from Louis. They settled into a rhythm, their pace growing more and more frantic as they both neared the edge.
William wound a hand through Louis’ hair, tugging sharply as his other hand moved to grasp Louis’ cock. He could feel Louis’ muscles starting to twitch with exertion and arousal. Louis leaned down to kiss him, biting his lip hard enough to split the skin. William felt pleasure flood his body as Louis rolled his hips again, losing the rhythm of his thrusts as he came.
Louis bounced on his cock a few more times, one of William’s warm hands wrapped around his hips and the other sliding along his cock, before he too came with a shout. He spent across William’s hand and onto his stomach, a few drops making it as far as his face. William scarcely had time to look offended, however, before Louis was leaning down and licking them off his lips.
William growled against his mouth and squeezed Louis’ hip as he made to climb off of him. Louis tsk-ed and moved anyway, retrieving the washbasin from earlier and bringing it to the bed.
“Cold! Cold,” William hissed as the rough towel swiped over him. Louis only rolled his eyes as he replaced the dish and returned to bed.
“I fear our negotiations were not as productive as they could have been,” Louis quipped as he pulled the heavy blanket over them both.
“On the contrary, I think we have made enviable progress,” William mumbled as his eyes slipped closed.
How is this the last chapter already? It's a short one, based off of the final scene of S2 E7. Who knows, maybe I'll have to post some epilogues as one shots!
Louis awoke to harsh beams of sunlight slicing through the Abbey windows. He slowly sat up, casting his eyes around the disheveled room. An empty, vaguely William-shaped indention in the blankets caught his eye. Further inspection revealed the rest of room to be unoccupied as well. Louis sighed. Was it really to much to hope for, waking up in William’s arms?
As soon as the thought crossed his mind, Louis chided himself. He was the King of France. Pining like a chambermaid was far beneath him. In fact, he found himself better rested than he had felt in recent memory, reinvigorated and settled at once. There were scores of better things to do than to mope over William’s absence. Things like searching out the man himself.
Louis rose, paying special attention as he dressed. He selected a stunning blood-red ribbon to hold fast his cravat and adjusted the bow until it fell exactly as he wished. He brushed his hair until it shone in the morning light, then ventured downstairs to the main chambers.
“Has the Dutchman arisen?” he asked Louvois as he walked.
“Not yet, sire.”
Louis paused for a moment, trying to hide his disappointment. “Come, we are leaving,” he declared. He would not chase after William like a breathless virgin, nor delay his return to the battlefield by waiting for him. William had made his preference perfectly clear by leaving while Louis slept.
“And what of the discussions?” Louvois spluttered.
“There were no discussions,” Louis said truthfully. He walked toward the gates of the Abbey. As he entered the courtyard, he saw William across the garden.
“Carry on,” he told his ministers, altering his path to take him in William’s direction. William followed his lead, leaving his entourage in the shadows of the tall stone walls. They met at the fountain directly in the center of the space, whether by chance or silent agreement even Louis was unsure.
“You slept well?” he asked, as though they hadn’t shared a bed only hours before.
“Fitfully,” William replied, a glimmer of amusement in his eye. “And you?”
“Like a child,” Louis responded. “I wanted to thank you.”
“For what?” William asked cautiously.
“For holding a mirror up to me. I shall remember our ‘discussions’ with great fondness.” Louis allowed himself a quick smile. “Despite the distance between us, there is something we shall share only with each other.”
“And what is that?”
Louis chuckled slightly before responding. “Our solitude.”
“Only that?” William challenged.
“It is possible I overlooked some additional items.” Louis conceded willingly. He turned and began to walk toward the edge of the Abbey, where a horse was saddled and waiting. He was already halfway across the courtyard by the time William spoke again.
“And the alliance?”
Louis turned around, raking his eyes across William. “No,” he said firmly. “You believe you have weakened me. In fact, you have given me back my strength. I have rediscovered my taste for war. And for victory.”
William looked away, the corners of his mouth tugging downwards ever so slightly. “And where will that leave the state of our … discussions?” he asked.
“I shall always know where to find you, just as you can be certain of my own whereabouts: the frontline of each new battle.”
“You would have men die so that you may call upon me? So that you may continue to challenge me when we are apart?” William asked. For a moment he seemed genuinely troubled. “Then again, I suppose you are the man who started a war to get my attention.” He smiled in spite of himself.
“Death in battle, in the name of one’s nation, is the height of honor, is it not? Whatever benefits I may draw from such a war are merely incidental.” Louis ignored William’s jibe. “But know this: it is a war I fight to win. There may exist other battles, where both triumph and defeat may bring pleasure. This is not one of them.”