The Moon and the Sun
|Author:||Vonda N. McIntyre
Pocket Books, 1997
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|Sub-Genre Tags:||Historical Fantasy|
Alternate History (Fantasy)
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In seventeenth-century France, Louis XIV rules with flamboyant ambition. In his domain, wealth and beauty take all; frivolity begets cruelty; science and alchemy collide. From the Hall of Mirrors to the vermin-infested attics of the Chateau at Versailles, courtiers compete to please the king, sacrificing fortune, principles, and even the sacred bond between brother and sister.
By the fiftieth year of his reign, Louis XIV has made France the most powerful state in the western world. Yet the Sun King's appetite for glory knows no bounds. In a bold stroke, he sends his natural philosopher on an expedition to seek the source of immortality -- the rare, perhaps mythical, sea monsters. For the glory, of his God, his country, and his king, Father Yves de la Croix returns with his treasures: one heavy shroud packed in ice...and a covered basin that imprisons a shrieking creature.
From Chapter 1
The procession wound its way along the cobbled street, stretching fifty carriages long. The people of Le Havre pressed close on either side, cheering their King and his court, marvelling at the opulence of the carriages and the harnesses, admiring the flamboyant dress, the jewels and lace, the velvet and cloth-of-gold, the wide plumed hats of the young noblemen who accompanied their sovereign on horseback.
Marie-Josèphe de la Croix had dreamed of riding in such a procession, but her dreams fell short of the reality. She traveled in the carriage of the duke and duchess d'Orle;ans, a carriage second in magnificence only to the King's. She sat across from the duke, the King's brother, known always as Monsieur, and his wife Madame. Their daughter Mademoiselle sat beside her.
On her other side, Monsieur's friend the chevalier de Lorraine lounged lazily, handsome and languorous, bored by the long journey from Versailles to Le Havre. Lotte -- Mademoiselle, I must always remember to call her, Marie-Josèphe said to herself, now that I'm at court, now that I'm her lady-in-waiting -- leaned out the carriage window, nearly as excited as Marie-Josèphe.
The chevalier stretched his long legs diagonally so they crossed in front of MarieJose;phe's feet.
Despite the dust, and the smells of the waterfront, and the noise of horses and riders and carriages clattering along the cobblestones, Madame insisted on opening both windows and curtains. She had a great fondness for fresh air, which Marie-Josèphe shared. Despite her age -- she was over forty! -- Madame always rode on the hunt with the King. She hinted that Marie-Josèphe might be invited to ride along.
Monsieur preferred to be protected from the evil humours of the outside air. He carried a silk handkerchief and a pomander. With the silk he brushed the dust from the velvet sleeves and gold lace of his coat; he held the clove-studded orange to his nose, perfuming away the odors of the street. As the coach neared the waterfront, the smell of rotting fish and drying seaweed rose, till Marie-Josèphe wished she too had brought a pomander.
The carriage shuddered and slowed. The driver shouted to the horses. Their iron shoes rang on the cobblestones. Townspeople poured into the street, thumping against the sides of the carriage, shouting, begging.
"Look, mademoiselle de la Croix!" Lotte drew Marie-Josèphe forward so they could both see out the carriage window. Marie-Josèphe wanted to see everything; she wanted to remember forever every detail of the procession. On either side of the street, ragged people waved and cheered, cried "Long live the King!" and shouted "Give us bread!"
One rider moved undaunted through the crowd. Marie-Josèphe took him for a boy, a page on a pony, then noticed that he wore the justaucorps à brevet, the gold-embroidered blue coat reserved for the King's most intimate associates. Realizing her mistake, she blushed with embarrassment.
The desperate townspeople clutched at the courtier, plucked at his gold lace, pulled at his horse's saddle. Instead of whipping them away, he gave them the King's alms. He handed coins to the nearer people, and flung coins to the people at the edges of the throng, the old women, the crippled men, the ragged children. The crowd formed a whirlpool around him, as powerful as the ocean, as filthy as the water in the harbor of Le Havre.
"Who is that?" Marie-Josèphe asked.
"Lucien de Barenton," Lotte said. "Monsieur le comte de Chre;tien. Don't you know him?"
"I didn't know -- " She hesitated. It was not her place to comment on M. de Chre;tien's stature at court.
"He represented His Majesty in organizing my brother's expedition, but I had no occasion to meet him."
"He's been away all summer," Monsieur said. "But I see he's kept his standing in my brother the King's estimation."
The carriage halted, hemmed in, jostled. Monsieur waved his handkerchief against the odors of sweating horses, sweating people, and dead fish. The guards shouted, trying to drive the people back.
"I shall have to have the carriage repainted after this," Monsieur grumbled wearily. "And no doubt I'll miss some of the gilt as well."
"Louis le Grand puts himself too close to his subjects," Lorraine said. "To comfort them with his glory." He laughed. "Never mind, Chre;tien will trample them with his war horse."
M. de Chre;tien could no more dominate a war horse than could I, Marie-Josèphe thought. Lorraine's cheerful sarcasm amused and then embarrassed her.
She feared for the count de Chre;tien, but no one else showed any worry. The other courtiers' mounts descended from the chargers of the Crusades, but Count Lucien, as befitted him, rode a small, light dapple-gray.
"His horse is no bigger than a palfrey!" Marie-Josèphe exclaimed. "The people might pull him down!"
"Don't worry." Lotte patted Marie-Josèphe's arm, leaned close, and whispered, "Wait. Watch. M. de Chre;tien will never let himself be unhorsed."
Count Lucien tipped his plumed hat to the crowd. The people returned his courtesy with cheers and bows. His horse never halted, never allowed itself to be hemmed in. It pranced, arching its neck, snorting, waving its tail like a flag, moving between the people like a fish through water. In a moment Count Lucien was free. Followed by cheers, he rode down the street after the King. A line of musketeers parted the crowd again; Monsieur's carriage and guards followed in Count Lucien's wake.
A bright flock of young noblemen galloped past. Outside the window, Lotte's brother Philippe, duke de Chartres, dragged his big bay horse to a stop and spurred it to rear, showing off its gilded harness. Chartres wore plumes and velvet, and carried a jeweled sword. Just returned from the summer campaigns, he affected a thin mustache like the one His Majesty had worn as a youth.
Madame smiled at her son. Lotte waved to her brother. Chartres swept off his hat and bowed to them all from horseback, laughing. A scarf fluttered at his throat, tied loosely, the end tucked in a buttonhole.
"It's so good to have Philippe home!" Lotte said. "Home and safe."
"Dressed like a rake." Madame spoke bluntly, and with a German accent, despite having come to France from the Palatinate more than twenty years before. She shook her head, sighing fondly. "No doubt with manners the same. He must accommodate himself to being back at court."
"Allow him a few moments to enjoy his triumph on the field of battle, Madame," Monsieur said. "I doubt my brother the King will permit our son another command."
"Then he'll be safe," Madame said.
"At the cost of his glory."
"There's not enough glory to go around, my friend." Lorraine leaned toward Monsieur and laid his hand across the duke's jeweled fingers. "Not enough for the King's nephew. Not enough for the King's brother. Only enough for the King."
"That will be sufficient, sir!" Madame said. "You're speaking of your sovereign!"
Lorraine leaned back. His arm, muscular beneath the sensual softness of his velvet coat, pressed against the point of Marie-Josèphe's shoulder.
"You've said the same thing, Madame," he said. "I believed it the only subject on which we concur."
His Majesty's natural son, the duke du Maine, glittering in rubies and gold lace, cavorted his black horse outside Monsieur's carriage until Madame glared at him, snorted, and turned her back. The duke laughed at her and galloped toward the front of the procession.
"Waste of a good war horse," Madame muttered, ignoring Lorraine. "What use has a mousedropping for a war horse?"
Monsieur and Lorraine caught each other's gaze. Both men laughed.
Chartres' horse leaped after Maine. The young princes were glorious. On horseback, they overcame their afflictions. Chartres' wild eye gave him a rakish air; Maine's lameness disappeared. Maine was so handsome that one hardly noticed his crooked spine. The King had declared him legitimate; only Madame still made note of his bastardy.
His Majesty's legitimate grandsons raced past; the three little boys pounded their heels against the sides of their spotted ponies and tried to keep up with their illegitimate half-uncle Maine and their legitimate cousin Chartres.
"Stay in the shade, daughter," Monsieur said to Lotte. "The sun will spoil your complexion."
"But, sir -- "
"And your expensive new dress," Madame said.
"Yes, Monsieur. Yes, Madame."
Marie-Josèphe, too, drew back from the sunlight. It would be a shame to ruin her new gown, the finest, by far, that she had ever worn. What did it matter if it was a cast-off of Lotte's? She smoothed the yellow silk and arranged it to show more of the silver petticoat.
"And you, Mlle de la Croix," Monsieur said. "You are nearly as dark as the Hurons. People will start calling you the little Indian girl, and Madame de Maintenon will demand the return of her nickname."
Lorraine chuckled. Madame frowned.
"The old hag never would claim it," Madame said. "She wants everyone to think she was born at Maintenon and has some right to the title of marquise!"
"Madame -- " Marie-Josèphe thought to defend Mme de Maintenon. When Marie-Josèphe first came to France, straight from the convent school on Martinique, the marquise had been kind to her. Though Marie-Josèphe was too old, at twenty, to be a student at Mme de Maintenon's school at Saint-Cyr, the marquise had given her a place teaching arithmetic to the younger girls. Like Marie-Josèphe, Mme de Maintenon had come to France from Martinique with nothing.
Mme de Maintenon often spoke of Martinique to the students, her protegees. She recounted the hardships she had endured in the New World. She reassured the impoverished high-born girls that if they were devout, and obedient, as she was, His Majesty would provide their dowries and they too could escape their circumstances.
Copyright © 1997 by Vonda N. McIntyre
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