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Looking Behind The Mask

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A summer afternoon at the Palais-Royal. Usually on such a day there would be little else but silence, broken only by light footsteps over gravel and stones, or the occasional burst of light laughter.

Today, however, was different. Today, the palace was bustling with noise and people - servants, cooks, stable-boys, maids - even the aristocracy had managed to rouse themselves. For tonight, the young King Louis was to host a "Grand Entertainment" – a masked ball, to be precise. It had been the talk of the card-tables for weeks, with every noble anticipating their invite, their outfit, even their own entrance into the event.

While the rest of the court were besides themselves with excitement, however, one person felt quite the opposite. 

"Another excuse for my brother to make himself look good." Philippe sighed, looking through his extensive wardrobe for something suitable - or suitably outrageous - to wear. While it was true that the young prince was fond of celebrations and dancing, he loathed it when his brother was the host, as that always lead to him having to show his submission or gratitude to Louis in one way or another. From birth, the King had been taught that all the people of France were his subjects - even his own brother - so naturally, all events came to revolve around him.

'Well, if Louis can have his moment in the sun, then so can I', Philippe thought bitterly. He smiled wickedly to himself as he picked out a silver-coloured dress, made of the finest satins and delicately embroidered with gold thread. He had certainly found something perfect to wear tonight.

Elsewhere, another hopeful courtier was also getting ready for the evening ahead. A young prince étranger, he came from a cadet branch of one of the oldest noble houses in France. His father was Le Grand Ecuyer, his brother the Count of Armagnac… and yet he could not have felt more unworthy of the glorious palace around him. He had high ambitions, yes, but as of yet they were completely unfulfilled. For the moment, he was by all means a nobody. Sighing to himself, the boy picked out his favourite deep blue suit, hoping to at least make a lasting impression at the ball. He still had to try and make an effort – after all, there was always the possibility of meeting somebody new. Maybe I could even find myself a handsome nobleman, he thought with a smirk. 

Time passed, and as the evening drew ever nearer, the tension at court only grew. The most observant amongst the aristocracy would have seen the King slipping into a secret passage, heard the door close quietly behind him as he silently entered someone’s chamber. However, the nobility generally observed little else, but themselves. 

The person inside watched from the vanity as the door opened, suppressing a sigh as he glared into the mirror, carefully placing down the powder he had been using.

“I am trying to perfect my make-up. Why interrupt me now, of all times?” He asked, an annoyed edge to his voice. Louis only smiled, a calculating sort of smile that showed this visit was not exactly friendly.

“You know exactly why.” He began, walking into the room with an almost infuriating level of confidence. “You wear incredibly fine clothes, but I suggest you choose a different outfit. I can’t risk you causing a scandal, tonight especially.” 

“Why must you always try to suppress me like this?” Philippe demanded incredulously, hopelessly willing himself not to let his anger get the better of him.  

“To make sure you do not undermine me, brother. I suspected you were going to make a spectacle of yourself and here you are, proving me correct once again.” The King’s expression was stoic, stern, much more parent than sibling.  

“And why do you think I do this!?” the Prince asked through gritted teeth. “I get no other opportunity to have people focus on me. My whole life, I have been forced to bow, kowtow, submit to you like a peasant would." He turned on his stool, now looking directly at Louis. "Tonight I will be myself, and you can do nothing about it.”  

“If I suppress you in any way, it is because I am only doing what I must. We both know how the Fronde started…” 

“And do you honestly think I would do such a thing!?” the powder fell to the floor, knocked from the vanity as Philippe stood in rage. “Just because I was close to Gaston in my youth does not mean I would ever betray you the way he did our father!” the sound of his footsteps echoed through the room as he strode towards his brother. “Not everyone is trying to knock you down,” he began, taking Louis’ arm as he looked fiercely into his eyes. “If you stopped attacking for a second you might just see it.” 

“Once again, brother, you do not understand.” Louis replied, as condescending as ever. “I am not under attack, but if I appear weak – if France appears weak - then that could all change. Our mother guides me now, but once I take control my authority must be absolute.” He took his arm from Philippe’s grasp, straightening himself so he stood taller. “Your behaviour, and my allowing it, undermines everything I am trying to achieve. You are not just defying me, you defy France – and you endanger her also.” 

“This is not a matter of national security, but of your pride!” Philippe spat. “You use politics as an excuse to deny me, humiliate me, demoralise me, and I shall have no more of it!” He paused as if to try to regain himself, almost red in the face with anger. “Now leave me, brother.”  

Without another word, the King span on his heel and left the room, the door slamming behind him. Philippe returned to his vanity, ignoring the spilt powder at his feet as he began to fix his delicate mask in place. 'He will soon learn that controlling me is not everything...'

 

That night, all eyes turned as the King's brother entered the room. He was well-known for being extravagantly dressed, often in women's clothes, but this was something entirely new. Whereas on other occasions he had simply looked beautiful, tonight he was breathtaking. Philippe revelled in the attention he received, glad to finally steal the limelight if but for one evening.

However, amongst all the commotion, he failed to notice a pair of striking blue eyes gazing at him from across the room. 
A pair of eyes that would change his life forever.