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The Fateful Birthday Ball

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3rd of September 1660

It was a cold, dull summer with frequent rain showers and this morning made no exception. The wind and rain was battering all the roofs of Paris. Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Louvre Palace and a hundred of nameless houses, everything soaking wet.
Under one of those roofs there were two men, lying in bed together and listening to raindrops. Then one of them got up, unashamedly naked, stepped over their clothes thrown on the floor, came to the window and looked on the street. It had been changed into a stream during the night.
“And we appeared in Venice” he remarked and brushed a strand of his hair behind his ear. His name was Armand de Gramont, in some circles known as the most depraved and outrageous man in all of France. He was quite proud of such a reputation. But those who didn´t know him saw just a brown-haired good looking man in his twenties. Now he turned around and looked at his companion in the bed, a fellow with an angelic face framed by wavy fair hair. He was several years younger than Gramont, but his experiences, lifestyle and more or less (but mostly less) innocent friendships made him matured.
He didn´t even listen to him, as he was engrossed in reading a letter.
Gramont, quite amused, watched his lover´s face getting more and more gloomy as he went through the message. Finally the Chevalier made a disgusted sound, crumpled the letter and threw it on the ground.
His head fell back on the pillow as he stared at the ceiling in genuine frustration.
“Let me guess,” Gramont smiled and his hazel eyes narrowed mockingly, “bad news?”
“It's from my father,” said the Chevalier with annoyance.
“So he won't send you any money then?”
“He simply stated that I'm a disapointment to the whole house of Lorraine, he is done with funding my vanities and frivolities and I should return back home as soon as possible.”
“Well, a little atonement is always good for a soul, as I've heard.”
“And how good for a soul is dying a slow and painful death by boredom while being stuck between my constantly embroidering mother and my father kissing his rosary six times a day?”
Gramont crossed the room and a mattress groaned as he flung himself onto the bed. Then he looked directly into the Chevalier's eyes with a certain glimse of compassion.
Then he proclaimed: “You're fucked, my dear.”
“And you're really enjoying it, aren't you?”
“In my opinion nothing is more pleasurable then watching the misery of my fellowmen and knowing it can't happen to me for my fortune is safely mine.”
“You really are a wicked prick.”
“That hurt. What are you going to do?”
This time it was the Chevalier, who got up from the bed and started pacing.
Suddenly after a half a minute of silence he exclaimed: “I'm his son for God's sake! One would say I'll have his money anyway, so what is he playing at?”
“Can't tell you that.”
“I mean, he's not actually doing anything with it, does he want to be buried with it?”
“You hope not, you wouldn't get it even after he's gone in such a case. So...,“ Gramont stretched himself amongst the sheets, “should I order my servants to pack your things?”
The Chevalier raised his eybrows. “Are you mad?”
“In that case you can either marry or-”
“Me? Marry?”
“-or sneak your ass into a bed of some idiot willing to pay your bills, you whore.”
“I've sneaked my ass into your bed already.”
“Well,” Gramont sat up and reached for his shirt on the floor, “unluckilly for you, I'm not an idiot. No offense, my dear, you fuck fine, but I never share my bed with anyone interested in something else than my cock.”
In a moment of silence the Chevalier's mouth dropped. “What?”
“This world is a cruel place after all, my dear,” Gramont blew a kiss derisively, “get used to it. But I'm not heartless. I invite you for some fun before you leave. I plan a little fishing.”
The Chevalier felt an instant urge to strangle his freshly former lover with his bare hands, but just repeated: “Fishing?”
“Yes, fishing” Gramont pointed to a Gazette flung on the table, “page three. Read.”
The pages rustled and when the Chevalier finally raised his eyes from the paper he did not understand Gramont's plans any better.
“So there will be a ball to celebrate the King's birthday... and what? It's annual, you know?”
Gramont rolled his eyes. “When exactly did you lose your brain? Did I manage to fuck it out?”
The Chevalier didn't say anything, just picked up his clothes from the floor and started to dress. His friend watched him for a while and then said: “You've never seen King's brother, have you?”
“No. Why?”
“It is my firm belief, that he may deserve some of the endless pleasures of my company,” grinned Gramont, “the King's only brother, soon old enough to gain some influence... who is in control of him is in control of the King. And who controls the King, controls France.”
The Chevalier raised an eyebrow. “You must be even more insane than I thought,” suddenly he burst out laughing, “you're seriously considering seducing the Duke of Orleans? Does he even like it our way?”
“A little bird told me he does,” grimaced Gramont, “well, if you can describe youngest Coiffier as a bird. He has it from Philip Mancini.“
“And Mancini knows for sure?”
Gramont smiled. “He took our young Monsieur's cherry, so I guess he should know. But he was sent to Rome some months ago leaving his lover so tragically alone. Filling the empty place is simply a matter of christian kindness.”
“Yes, your philantrophy and self-sacrifice are commonly known,” said the Chevalier ironically, “I almost pity that poor royal fish of yours.”
Gramont ignored him. “And as for you,” he continued, “you can enjoy one last ball before returning home as father's obedient little boy.“
Right now the Chevalier would exchange a hundred balls for a chance to stuff those Gazettes into Gramont's throat, but he only forced a smile and nodded, “That would be lovely.”
“As you say, my philantrophy is commonly known after all.”


6th of September 1660
It was in the evening, three days after Gramont's and the Chevalier's conversation, when another two young men watched through the window an endless line of carriages arriving to Louvre. Due to a growing darkness it was impossible to tell, if they can see the courtyard or their own reflections better. Those two were brothers and one of them a King.
They stood in silence for quite long, but it wasn't an unpleasant silence – they simply knew each other too well to need any small talk.
Finally the King said: “How many do you think, Philippe?”
His brother smiled. “A few hundred? More or less? But I know it's hardly enough to celebrate you sufficiently,” he added ironically.
“Will you ever stop keeping my head down?”
“I'm your brother, what do you think?”
Louis chuckled.
“By the way,“ Philippe continued, “I was looking for you this morning and your new Bontemps couldn't tell me anything. Where have you been?”
Both brothers turned their heads to a valet patiently waiting next to a door. He performed duties of the first valet for just a few months, after the death of his father, but to King's full satisfaction. Louis nodded and turned back to the window.
“I was riding.”
“Really?” Philippe narrowed his eyes teasingly. “Whom?”
Louis gave him a stare. “I think I'm married.”
“And I think I know you, my dear brother. One of your Queen's ladies is just your type I noticed.”
Louis turned defence into attack by: “If you like her so much she's all yours, go ahead.”
The little sparkles in Philippe's eyes faded as he turned back to the window and stayed silent. His gaze wandered out through the darkness, seeking something beyond the night, seeking the faint outlines of the roofs. Suddenly Louis felt a little guilty, targeting his brother´s struggles made victory too easy. He touched Philippe's shoulder in an apology.
“You should give her a try anyway,” he said then although he would prefer any other topic of conversation, “her or any other. Maybe you develop a taste for your own good.”
“Not interested,” Philippe repulsed the offer, eyes fixed to the outside. For a while Louis watched him silently. Le Petit Monsieur for the court, little brother for him. Louis couldn't feel but protective over him, Philippe even strengthened those tendencies by always looking younger than his actual age.
“If I were you, I'd think twice about it,” Louis urged, “do you really want everyone to know you as a sodomite?”
“You mean – everyone to know your brother is a sodomite.”
“You said that.”
“I speak what you think.”
“If you-”
“I won't!”
Louis sighed. “I know.”
This time the silence between them was everything but pleasant. It took some time until Louis decided to change the subject completely.
“Why were you looking for me in the morning?”
Philippe waited with responce for a while. “I just wanted to ask… about the thing you suggested last week… if you mean it.”
“Of course I mean it,” Louis replied immediatelly, “do you think I would talk about it, if I didn´t mean it? You´re not a child anymore, it´s time to show world your qualities.” He smiled as he watched a weight visibly lifted from his brother´s mind. “Of course…,” he continued and Philippe´s face darkened again, “that position would expect some compromise from your side as well.”
Philippe nodded. “Of course. You know I´d become a monk if that´s what it takes.”
Louis grinned. “I´m not asking that much.”
“You know it´s a great deal to me.”
“Surely no greater than to me.”
Philippe´s bantering mood was back and he raised an eyebrow. “Do you really think I´ll be that useful?”
Louis shrugged. “Usefull maybe, refreshing certainly.”
Philippe chuckled. “Is that actually a compliment?”
“I trust our mother and cardinal to hold me whatever may come. But that´s not enough. All the others… they may be loyal or not – I don´t know and perhaps I´ll never know if they´re giving me advices in favor of France or their own. I need people who are honest with me. You´ll always tell me the truth, won´t you?”
“I promise.”
Suddenly steps were heard from a corridor, the door opened and a group of ladies entered the room. One of them, a dignified woman with an aristocratic face, was Anne of Austria.
She took a sharp look at her sons and said: “So you´re both here. Good. We wait just for the Queen, cardinal won´t join us today.”
Louis and Philippe exchanged concerned glances, knowing how distressed their mother was about Mazarin´s deteriorating health. They were upset as well as the cardinal was the closest they had to father after all.
The King´s face revealed no emotion, while Philippe, after a moment of diffidence, came to mother and put his hand on Anne´s shoulder.
“He recovered several times before,” he reminded her softly, “he will again, you´ll see.”
“If God wills it,” said his mother and shaked his hand off, “and in a meantime Bontemps will take you to your rooms to change into something more respectable.”
Philippe gasped and the eyes of the whole room turned to his bold rhinestone and laced scarlet coat. It was clear to Louis, that his brother chose these clothes very carefully and with love as every time. Anne´s critic was all the worse considering the fact her approval was what Philippe always longed the most. The brothers had that in common.
Philippe, deeply offended, stood still, hoping Anne changed her mind. Yet she nodded at Bontemps, he bowed and opened the door expressively. Philippe took a sharp breath, left the room and didn´t bang the door shut just because Bontemps held it. The Valet stepped out the door after him.
Anne immediately ordered her ladies to leave as well.
“I need to talk to you,” she turned to her eldest son when they were left alone.
Louis thought that it should occure to him earlier for his mother rarely criticized Philippe´s clothing or effeminacy. He remembered very well the unforgettable soiree two weeks ago, which his brother attended dressed as a shepperdess and their mother pretended not to notice anything unusual.
“I have heard you´re considering your brother to join the council.” Anne was never a supporter of long introductions.
Louis somehow knew this conversation would come, but he was determined this time to maintain his point. “Yes, I am.”
“You will do no such a thing.”
“Why so?”
“Because responsibility about our country lies on your shoulders and there it must remain. Do not forget Phillippe is not only your brother, but also a dauphin, until your wife delivers a boy. His only purpose-”
“This is my brother you´re talking about!”
“Thank you, I know perfectly well whom I´m talking about,” said Anne coldly and continued where interrupted: “His only purpose is to be here in case something happens to you. Don´t you see? Give such a man a little taste of power – and he may take more and never give it back.”
“Is this why the cardinal encourages him in all his eccentricities?” asked Louis caustically. “So he can´t pose any threat to me? I trust him, mother.”
“Your father also trusted his brother, do I have to remind you-“
“I have not forgotten!” retorted Louis. This was his weak spot and Anne knew very well. Even with the rebellion suppressed and uncle Gaston dead, childhood memories hunted him still.
Anne saw that her goad didn´t miss, so she softened her tone a little: “You are both my sons,” she said, “and I love you both, but you are also a King. Love your brother, but think like a ruler. This is the only way to assure that one day your own son won´t suffer the same as we did. Do you understand?”
“Phillippe is not like this. You are wrong about him.”
“Am I? What experience do you have to be so sure? Betrayal never comes from your enemies. It comes from friends and loved ones. Look into my eyes, Louis. Are you a fool?”
He swallowed, feeling like a rebuked little boy once again. “No, mother.”
“Then do not act like one. Your brother may one day seek to destroy you – do not give him tools to make it easier for him.”
Louis did not respond and all the room was suddenly full of tense and depressing silence.
“And put yourself together,” Anne sharply added and he tried to oblige as well as possible by hiding the distress now visible on his face.
Louis thought he succeded, but Philippe saw immediately when he entered the room dressed in decent blue coat. His observant eyes shifted from brother to mother and back again.
“We discussed politics,” explained Louis.
“Is anything wrong?”
Duke of Orleans, Louis realised, just like our uncle. The King watched his brother´s child-like gentle face, innocent blue eyes and wondered about everything his mother said. Would Philippe be able to betray him? One thing Louis knew for certain, aware of his brother´s abilities. If Philippe ever decides to stab him in the back it won´t be like all the uncles pointless half-baked attempts. He is more than able to create a succesful plot. The question stands – would he do that?
“Is anything wrong?” Philippe repeated. “Brother?”
Louis smiled. “Nothing that should worry you, brother.”
Philippe wasn´t quite satisfied, but the door opened again and the woman they all waited for entered – Louis´s new wife Marie Therese.
“I hope I´m not late,” she said slowly and with a thick spanish accent.
The King smiled, visibly grateful for an interuption. “Not at all, madam.” He looked at her with delight, attracted by her elegant proud beauty.
Coincidentally Philippe stared at the Queen as well, but his mind roamed around her sulphurous yellow gown. He simply hated that colour.
The King offered his Queen his arm and all the royal family left the room to join the ball downstairs. Anne stopped her younger son before he got through the door.
He looked to her questioningly.
“Remember,” she said, “today you represent your brother in public. I will not tolerate any of your… peculiarities, am I understood?”
Philippe nodded docilely, his heart heavy.
“Very well.”

Philippe wasn´t far from the truth by guessing the number of guests to be several hundred. The lavish ballroom was overcrowded so when the King and his family appeared in the door and people reverentially made a space for them, Gramont and the Chevalier were pressed against the wall left unable to see anyone over other people´s heads. Finally the King, his wife, mother and brother reached their seats, the crowd spread out and they could move. The King rose to his feet again and started a long welcoming speech. Gramont grabbed the Chevalier´s hand and elbowed his way closer to the royals. It took some time before they had a full view.
But he´s a child! was the Chevalier´s first thought as he stared at the only young man in the King´s company, sitting right next to the Queen Anne. He couldn´t explain why, but he imagined Duke of Orleans to be quite different.
Gramont next to him smiled. “Today will be a good day,” he whispered and the Chevalier felt almost pity for Monsieur, not knowing what awaits him. Only an image of Gramont putting his hands on that boy or man or whatever he is was nearly like an emetic for the Chevalier, like placing a white marble statue into an ape´s cage. No, not a marble, he corrected himself instantly, a porcelain, that´s what he is. Precious and delicate porcelain doll. Philippe´s rounded cheeks as a memory of a childhood, but a surprisingly defined line of cheekbones, jaw and chin formed together a noble refined profile which combined with its frame of dark hair made the Chevalier´s mouth dry and heart beat somewhere in his throat.
Philippe had no idea he was being watched. While picking up something of his brother´s speech he occupied himself with his own problems, amongst others King´s distant look when he returned to the room upstairs in his clothes changed. We discussed politics, Louis said. Yes, sure, Philippe smiled for himself bitterly, very well aware they were discussing him and his, as mother called it, peculiarities. It wasn´t the first time and certainly wouldn´t be the last. He knew this kind of stare, he saw them everywhere for the last three, maybe four years. Mother, cardinal, all the councilmen… all those whose job is to find all his tender spots and use them against him. Suddenly a two year old memory came unbidden to his mind, a memory of a day when he ended up in bed with Philip Mancini, the cardinal´s nephew. Monsieur smiled again, but the smile was no happier than the previous one. Does cardinal really think I am so stupid not to realise that Philip did it on his command? Well, maybe I am stupid I played the game anyway. No rebels would ever follow me like that - and a King is save once more from his dangerous dangerous brother. Why not, after all. When I join the council, as Louis promised, they´ll see for what I stand, they´ll see who I am. Philipe enjoyed the image for a while, but then he slowly and involuntarily replaced the word when for if. Stop, he admonished himself, Louis promised – so it´s when not if.
Yes, he promised, whispered that little annoying part of Philippe´s mind, but he didn´t actually do anything yet, did he?
Shut up, he will.
Oh, will he?
Yes, he will, he can be trusted in this matter. He would never push me away, if everyone else, he would not.
Maybe you really are as stupid as cardinal reckoned.
Shut up.
That´s the best you have for me?
Just shut up, shut up shut up!
Philippe quit that pointless argument with himself and suddenly felt tired. Nothing would make him happier in the moment than opportunity to go to his bed alone and sleep. To be alone, no arguments, no labels, no strange stares and no leery faces. He missed something, he didn´t know exactly what, but he missed it desperadly.
A sudden sound brought him round. The King finished his speech and all the people loudly clapped. Philippe joined them – he did not listen, but if the King wants applause, he shall have it. Then the music started and Louis immediatelly took his Queen for the first dance as expected. They performed it quite well. Finally when others could join, Philippe in his current mood had no desire to do so. However his mother´s stare impaled him so significantly that he got up and without too much thinking headed for his cousin Henriette as usual. After he was granted permission by her mother, he bowed and offered an arm.
Henriette curtseyed. “Monsieur.”
Philippe managed to push unpleasant thoughts away and thought this evening didn´t have to be such a torture after all. He liked dancing and he liked Henriette. Four years younger than him, a springtime beauty with never fading smile.
“You look lovely tonight,” he said after they made their first steps into the rhythm of menuet. They were both excellent dancers and used to each other.
“I´ve got a new necklace,” Henriette displayed it proudly and Philippe took a look into her cleavage.
“Your brother sent you that?”
“How do you know?”
“Simple guess. Now when he´s a King, he can allow such a gifts for his little Minette.”
“I´m not that little anymore,” Henriette pushed her chin forward, “everyone gossips that I´m to marry soon.”
“Everyone gossips that I am,” Philippe shrugged his shoulders, “but you know how tittle-tattle works. You come up with something, say it to someone else and else and else – and suddenly it´s a truth. I imagine that on my wedding day, if it ever comes, they simply wake me up in the morning, dress me, put me on a certain spot in church and I´ll know a bride is the woman next to me. Luckily the priest says the names during ceremony, so I won´t have to ask her later.”
Henriette laughed and the dance separated them.
“But I´m sure it´s more than some gossip in my case,” insisted Henriette full of anxiety, when she appeared herself by Philippe´s side once again, “my brother wrote he wants me back in England. He plans my marriage, surely.”
“Well, you´ve become an important person, my dear cousin, your marriage will shake the history. Are you looking forward to it?”
“I´m petrified,” confessed Henriette with a little smile, “to leave all this, the court...”
“...Paris, France, the favourite one of your cousins…,” continued Philippe and Henriette gave him a sharp look. He made an innocent face, knowing that as a family and old friend he´s permitted a little teasing.
“What do you mean by that?” Henriette´s eyes narrowed.
Philippe smiled. “Come now, Minette, we both know the reason why you want to stay. Pity mother wanted him to marry a Spaniard.”
“Mind your own business.”
“I simply wanted to help. You know I´m all ears for any secret of yours.”
Henriette hit him with a fan, but they both knew she only played being offended. He laughed.
The dance forced them to go an opposite direction once again, so there was a time to change the subject.
“Is it true about the Queen?” Henriette asked.
Philippe rose an eyebrow. “So many years you live here and still you think I know something others don´t?”
“I´ve heard she´s expecting.”
“If that´s true, she can say goodbye to her husband´s presence in her bed. He´d never waste his time with a woman who´s the size of a wardrobe.”
“You´re mean.”
“And right. You´ll see that-” Suddenly a face appeared in the crowd for a less than a second. Philippe´s heart skipped several beats and a shiver ran down his spine before he even realised what he saw. An angel looking straight at him.
Hurriedly he turned around to make sure he´s not dreaming. Henriette was confused by the sudden change of direction, Philippe hit right against her, his heel slipped on the smooth floor and he fell flat. The couples around them stopped dancing and made an unhelpful circle of onlookers.
“Philippe,” wheezed Henriette, “are you alright?”
She made a hesitant step towards him, but someone was faster. A handsome brown-haired man bent down to Philippe and helped him up.
“Are you alright, Your Royal Highness?” he asked solemnly while still holding Philippe´s hand.
“Yes... I think so.”
His saviour bowed. “Armand de Gramont, Count of Guiche,” he introduced himself and turned to the crowd, “there´s nothing to see here, the duke is alright!”
Most of the people lost an interest already, the rest were repelled by a strict tone. Only Henriette stayed, visibly impressed by the stranger´s appearance and decisiveness. Ordinarily Gramont would get Philippe´s attention as well, but now Monsieur ignored him while still looking around confusingly in hope to see his nymph. He needed to see that man to make sure his mind didn´t just make him up. Vain effort, whoever the man was, he was gone.
Henriette frowned. “You look like you´ve seen a ghost.”
“Maybe,” Philippe replied.
Gramont and Henriette subconciously exchanged concerned glances.
“Shall we dance?” asked Henriette and the tone of her voice made Philippe acknowledge her existence. He shook his head. Even though he still wasn´t sure if the fair-haired man was real, he knew he´ll never find him again while dancing.
“I… think I need to sit,” he said, “because... of my ankle.”
“Does your ankle hurt?” asked Gramont immediately. “Maybe it would be a good idea to let your doctor see it.
Philippe´s face while he looked at Gramont mirrored a number of questions like: “Who the hell are you?” and “Why are you even talking to me?”.
“Is there anything I can do?” Gramont´s stamina was admirable.
“Would you mind to take care of my partner?” asked Philippe immediately, putting Henriette´s hand into Gramont´s and before one of them could object he headed to his seat.
“I see you´re alright,” uttered Queen Anne when her younger son took a seat.
“I´m sorry,” Philippe replied automatically and his eyes searched the crowd.
Finally he saw him again, right next to the door. Not an angel, but the most handsome man Philippe´s ever seen. All of the sudden he turned around and looked straight at Philippe, who felt like a hooklet hitched his lower chest and an untearable fishing line was dragging him to the man he didn´t even know by name. Their gazes held and Philippe felt a rush inside himself, stirring and frightening. It took just a moment, then the ghost disapeared behind the door. Philippe got up immediately and on his mother´s objection he mumbled something about the air. He didn´t care what she, his brother or whoever might think, he simply knew he couldn´t let the man vanish again.
When Philippe reached the entrance hall and the ballroom door closed behind him, he found it empty except for a few servants. He nearly went back disapointed, but then he got an idea to take a look into a side corridor.
There he found his siren, looking out of the window, turning to him and smiling. Suddenly he had no idea what to do or say, he knew only one thing – that he was completely, completely lost.

In an interesting development, the Chevalier somehow knew Philippe would come and felt no sympathy for the rejected fisherman Gramont. Now he stood with the King´s brother alone, face to face.
He stayed silent, too busy watching Philippe´s eyes to realise Monsieur´s inability to start a conversation.
Philippe smiled nervously and blushing of his cheeks shined even through the thick layer of powder.
“You propably know who I am,” he said.
“I do, Your Royal Highness,” he bowed, “Chevalier de Lorraine, at your service.”
“Lorraine? Then you must be brother to count of Armagnac.”
“Yes, I´m afraid being a count of Armagnac´s errant younger brother will always be my life´s greatest accomplishment.”
Philippe half chuckled and half sighed. “Tell me about it.”
They both smiled at each other. Then the Chevalier made a risky step, leaned toward Philippe and slowly caressed his cheek. Monsieur froze by surprise and his eyes showed a strange mixture of distrust, hope and joy.
“How do you know?” he breathed out.
“There are some things I know,” the Chevalier replied and without any further explanation he kissed Philippe, using all the skill he achieved in his previous affairs. Not only to strenghten King´s brother´s interest, but also, as he realised with quite a surprise, simply to please Philippe.
The kiss was undoubtedly the best Monsieur ever had. A little shorter than he would like, and just long enough for him to want more. The Chevalier timed it perfectly and fully succeded.
Philippe´s eyes mirrored nothing but admiration if not adoration. His seducer was nearly against his will touched by that look. Monsieur was ready to kiss him back and properly this time, when a known voice echoed through the entrance hall.
Philippe whispered: “Don´t leave!” and before the Chevalier even realised what´s wrong was Philippe on his way towards Bontemps in the door.
“You´re required, Monsieur,” announced the valet and took a suspicious look over Philippe´s shoulder.
“My brother sent his watchdog?” replied Philippe with a way too little effort to hide his annoyance. Bontemps however didn´t seem offended and followed Monsieur´s sharp steps back into the hallway.
After he took a seat, Philippe realised his brother wasn´t propably the one who sent Bontemps. Queen Anne watched him with utmost suspition, she couldn´t overlook her son´s colored cheeks and lively eyes.
“Where have you been?”
“I told you I went for some air.”
“And I told you about my expectations of your behaviour tonight,” replied Anne hardly fooled, “do not force me to repeat it.”
“Yes, mother.”
Philippe would be offended under different circumstances, but now he just recalled the touch of the Chevalier´s lips. Anne continued about her expectations, something about perception, something about the King, Philippe didn´t listen, a little absent-minded smile on his face.
“Philippe!” Anne finally forced him to pay attention.
“Yes, mother?”
She sighed. “Just go dance again.”
Philippe looked for Henriette and he found her on the dancing floor in his brother´s arms. Her smile was not so different from the one on Philippe´s face a minute ago.
“My ankle still hurts,” announced Philippe.
His mother gave up.

The majority of guests were already gone and the Chevalier still waited in the corridor where Philippe left him. Midnight already passed and he started to think he misjudged that little sweetmeat and became victim of some duke´s stupid prank. He tried to convince himself he wouldn´t mind if that was true, but some part of him nearly begged God to bring Philippe back, lovely and innocent as he seemed to be. He began to pace from one side of the corridor to another.
Finally a sound of steps appeared, the Chevalier swiftly turned around. It wasn´t Philippe, just one of numerous servants. He looked away from him through the window again, but the servant didn´t pass – he went right to him.
“Chevalier de Lorraine?” the servant asked.
“The Duke of Orleans requests your presence. If you please.”
The Servant didn´t even wait for the Chevalier´s answer, turned around and simply expected him to follow. They went through several side corridors, many of them dark, lonely, clearly rarely used. The Chevalier´s feeling of “this must be a joke” appeared again, when his guide opened a door behind the mirror and they continued through the dusty, spider-infested secret passageway between the walls.
Finally they stopped next to the door looking like many of those which they already passed. They both entered and appeared themselves in the anteroom.
“His Royal Highness is expecting you,” announced the servant and gave Chevalier a disapproving look. Then he hammered on the door at the other side and after quiet answer from the inside he opened and stepped back, so the Chevalier could enter.
It was small, cosy bedchamber, clean, but something suggested it´s not used every day. On the edge of the four-poster bed sat Monsieur and his face shined when the Chevalier entered. He got up and came forth.
The Chevalier bowed. “Your Royal Highness.”
Instead of giving a proper answer Monsieur giggled nervously and removed a spiderweb from the Chevalier´s hair.
“I´m sorry for that,” he waved his hand towards the door, “it´s a while since I was here for the last time and the servants didn´t expect-”
“It´s alright,” the Chevalier interrupted him, and thought it unbelievable he just had to assure a member of the royal family he´s content with his hospitality. He wanted to say something more and if possible more sophisticated, but Philippe´s eyes silenced him. He couldn´t stop staring at them.
To say that they are blue would be like saying that the sun is yellow, he thought. True but not sufficient at all. They brought to his mind the forget-me-not, bright, shining under a soft light. There was an incredible enigma in those eyes, the Chevalier wasn´t sure what to think about this Monsieur, but he was sure there was a secret there that Philippe doesn’t show, maybe more than one. He appears so immaculate and elegant and charming, Chevalier realised, and there is somewhere inside of him a painfulness, which is simply irresistible.
Philippe was surprised how Chevalier´s piercing gaze could make him feel at once weak and more alive than he ever was. He shivered, but not from cold. His heart beat faster and there was a delicious, undeniable swelling between his legs.
“I ordered some wine and food for us, we can sit,” he said, politely trying to cover the fact there was a bed in the room. It was the first time for the Chevalier not to be treated like a toy by his lovers. Philippe´s behaviour confused him, but he fully enjoyed his new position.
He reached out and drew Philippe tight against his body, giving him no time to continue about wine or food. Philippe was suddenly fully aroused and gave an apologetic grimace to the Chevalier who just smiled and helped him with unfastening the belt. Philippe took a sharp breath when the Chevalier´s hand vigorously drove between his legs. There was nothing more he wanted in that moment than the Chevalier above him, on him, in him. He pulled him closer and tried to kiss him several times, but the Chevalier´s lips stayed closed.
“Please,” Philippe whispered and smiled in anticipation, “please...”
Finally the begging was answered, in the way Philippe didn´t even imagine possible until now. The shoes, coats, breeches, waistcoats and shirts, everything was soon ripped off and flung aside.
On the other side of the door a dutiful footman listened to all those loud breaths, groans, gasps, moans, screeching of mattress and occasional screams. He just sighed quietly and touched a cross he wore around his neck.

Later that evening, Henriette sat in her chamber, already dressed in her nightgown and one of her ladies brushed her sun-colored tresses.
“Did you enjoy the evening, madam?”
Henriette nodded and watched her own reflection in the mirror. She wasn´t even angry at Philippe anymore, even though his sudden escape offended her. Gramont was more than a sufficient replacement and when dance tired Marie-Therese, the King himself spent all the rest of the evening with her.
Lively sparkles danced in Henriette´s eyes when she looked up to the lady.
“Do you think King handsome, Louise?”
Louise de La Valliere lowered her stare. “That´s not up to me to say, madam.”
Henriette laughed to that anwer. “You´re no fun,” she said then.
“My apologies, madam.”
After a while Henriette swept her hand and Louise finished brushing.
“Madam,” another lady-in-waiting entered room, “the King has come.”
Henriette froze by surprise and her heart missed few beats.
“Let him in, Angelique.”
“He´s already gone, madam,” Angelique replied, “His Majesty left a message.”
Henriette´s heart slowed down its beating, dissapointed. “Yes?”
“He said it was about the matter you had discussed and there was a solution, mutually beneficial.”
“What solution?”
“He said nothing more, madam.”
Henriette slithered into bed and Louise covered her with blanket.
After all the ladies left and Henriette blew out a candle, she smiled. So he has a solution, she can stay in France. Whatever he had on mind, she knew she would do anything for it. Anything.

When the Chevalier opened his eyes in the morning, Philippe was already awake, lying silently next to him, holding his hand and staring at the ceiling.
The Chevalier gazed at him as a painter would gaze at masterpiece. Then he reached for him and caressed his cheek. Philippe turned to his lover and kissed his hand.
“Henceforth,” the Chevalier whispered lovingly, “every day that I do not touch you, taste you, feel you will be the day of death and mourning.”
Philippe didn´t even listen, he sat up and looked away.
The Chevalier frowned. “What´s wrong?”
“My valet is ordered to pass you an expression of my gratitude,” said Philippe, “and accompany you from the palace wherever you wish to go.”
The Chevalier didn´t say anything. Just yesterday he would think Monsieur´s attitude flawless, but not now. “Thank you for your appreciation, Monsieur,” he said quietly, “and if that´s what you wish...”
Philippe turned to him and it was clear that the Chevalier´s leave is the last thing he wished. The Chevalier was touched.
He got up, took one of the sheets, approached Monsieur, covered his nudity and kissed him softly on forehead.
“Mignonette,” he whispered lovingly and Monsieur, standing next to the window, had no place to move aside, “I´m not going anywhere.”
“Do you realise they can have you punished for this? I´ve risked my brother´s favour by sleeping with you – you´ve risked more.”
The Chevalier rose an eyebrow. “There are some things in life which deserve to be reckless for. And if I die for this night, I´ll die a happy man.”
“You can´t mean that.”
The Chevalier took Philippe´s head in his hands and kissed him again. “Should I show you that I can?” he asked.
“No, you should-”
Another kiss and the Chevalier started pushing Philippe back. Slowly but surely.
“This is wrong,” Philippe mumbled.
“You´re royal blood, my sweet,” the Chevalier shoved him onto the bed, “you don´t care about some right and wrong. If this is what you want to do, we´ll do it”.
Philippe stared at the Chevalier with fear and fascination like little mouse would stare at snake, all his defences broken and took off the sheet his lover covered him with.