Versailles, France. Anno 1662. The reign over the French empire has just been taken over by its rightful owner, the twenty-four year old Louis XIV - otherwise known as le Roi Soleil - the Sun King -, or le Roi Danse - the Dance King. French nobility from all over the nation is summoned to the palace and obliged to continue their noble lives under its immense vaults - robbed of their power and their every move due to be surveyed.
To this nobility belongs also a sixteen year old girl and her family, for they are distantly related to the King. They are forced to leave their dukedom and their contacts to plunge in the dark schemes of Versailles' palace...
"Liz! Liz!" I heard my nickname being called by an excited voice, and I turned around with the one flower I had been rearranging in the bouquet of roses in my hand.
"Yes, Françoise?" I asked calmly.
My younger sister jumped to a stop right in front of me. Her curly dark blonde hair, so similar to mine, looked quite blown about and her bright blue eyes twinkled with barely suppressed emotions. "Liz! Did you hear the news already? About the ball? Ophélia told me there's going to be a masquerade!"
Ophélia was my sister's best friend. If I hadn't known better, I'd have thought they were binovular twins. They didn't look alike in the slightest, but their personalities were so alike that it was almost uncanny. And since Ophélia had an affair with one of the palace's barbers, she was always informed of the latest novelties before they were officially announced.
"A masquerade? Well, that's nice," I agreed with as much enthusiasm as I could manage. Balls never had been my favorite events, as they were primarily used to seduce the opposite sex or forge new alliances.
My mother looked up from the book she had been reading and warped me a disturbed glance. "Elisabeth, a little more grateful, dear. This bal masqué is the perfect opportunity for you to try to get in the good King's grace."
Ever since my father, Gaston Jean-Baptiste de France - Louis XIV's uncle and former Duke d'Orléans - passed away from illness, my family - that now only counted four women - had fallen out of the royal grace. In order to retain His Majesty's sympathy, my mother had assigned me the duty of trying to attract his attention with my beauty and attempt to become his mistress. Because, as she said, 'one more or less wouldn't make a difference for him'.
I didn't answer her, however. I just let out a deep sigh and put the red rose I had in my hand back in the vase, staring at it.
Weren't roses meant to be a symbol of love? Of passion and infatuation? When I had received this bouquet, it had seemed like the most beautiful flowers in the world had been put together and given to me by my love, but now the blood red color seemed almost dull, the leaves slightly pointing towards the table.
An uneasy feeling brewed in my belly when I thought of Jacques. With his chestnut brown hair and matching eyes, prominent cheekbones and muscled body, he was a handsome young man. Nonetheless, he still was a mere blacksmith's valet in the palace, nothing but a servant, but in spite of that, he had captured my heart. I had payed attention to his appearance for several weeks, but he never seemed to notice me - it had been like a reverse world.
The nobility admiring the working class from a distance, it was unheard of.
Until only a while ago, he had suddenly spoken a few kind words to me, and then he had given me flowers, saying that the only thing more beautiful than those was me. I had undeniably melted for him, and ever since then we had been meeting secretly in the Garden of Versailles - since it was so large, there were enough spots where we would never be seen.
And I had been happy. Only lately, I had a strange feeling of loneliness, emptiness - as if his presence was only physical. I told myself every day not to mind it too much, but I couldn't deny the fact that, as the stories of other girls of my age told me, these pretty things don't last forever.
The nobility could admire the working class, but they could never marry them.
I knew that, and I'd known it ever since I tumbled into the whirlpool of my confusing emotions, but I unintentionally cherished a little ember of hope in my heart. Maybe, just maybe, a miracle could change this cruel fate.
My older sister, Marguerite - the only one I'd told about my affection for Jacques - however, had only shaken her head and declared that I was a stupid girl to believe in fairy tales.
And I had started to accept that perhaps I was.
* * *
At the blacksmith's, the words 'bleeding hot' were a major understatement. Steam originated from the hot iron products which were laid to rest in water basins, mountaineous temperatures erupted from the melting furnaces and the burning coals, the blacksmiths and their valets labored while sweat dripped down their muscles bodies. For everyone who was a prey to the heat, the area was like hell on earth.
My mate, Pepin, and I were digging in the heaps of black coals with heavy spades to supply the furnaces while keeping up a sluggish conversation.
"So, the galley boy told me there's gonna be a ball soon," he mentioned in between his panting.
I snorted scornfully. "Yeah. Trust the rich people to throw a party while we're workin' our asses off."
"They're shameless, those folks, ain't they? They got all the good chicks, too."
That comment was typically Pepin. He had had 'relationships' with half of the noblemen's daughters, and then with three quarters of the maids and seamstresses, too. He was infamous.
An image of my own 'chick', as he called it, crossed my mind. Elisabeth Marguerite d'Orléans was one of the King's countless nieces and had a kind of fragile beauty - a smooth, pale skin, dark blond curls, pale blue eyes and a small rosebud lips as the finishing touch. To be honest, she was quite a catch. Even Pepin, the number one lady killer, congratulated me when I 'struck her down'.
Well, it sure was some kind of accomplishment, but after a while it was rather tiring. The girl was unbelievably reserved, and every time we wanted to meet, we had to hide in the bushes.
A maid would be easier to woo, that I was sure of. At least they weren't as prudish as Elisabeth.
"I suppose you know what you're talkin' about, mate," I replied aloofly.
"Sure do," he went on with a self-confident grin on his ash-stained face, "Those girls are sexually frustrated, Jacques, they crave for a relief!"
"Not mine," I grunted.
"Yeah well, this is your chance to find a new one, mate! We're going to that ball, seduce some fair ladies and give them that relief they want so much. Sound like a plan?"
I stared. He's got to be kidding me. "Dude," I said, with a tone as if I was explaining the most obvious thing to a toddler - which in a way, I was - "We're blacksmiths. Like hell we're going to that ball." I dug up another spade full of coals and threw them in the fire, to prove my point.
Pepin just rolled his eyes. "Thanks for pointin' out the obvious, mate. But here's the thing," he lowered his voice, paused shortly, and then leaned on his shovel's handle. "The ball's a masquerade."
His plan dawned to me as he winked and stuck his spade in the coals. "You wanna disguise yourself?"
"Hey, everyone is goin' in disguise. No one will notice! Isn't it the perfect plan?" His enthusiasm was almost contagious - almost. I struggled to resist. The thought of actually going was quite tempting.
"It's a perfectly stupid plan, you fool."
"I know, ain't I a genius?" he grinned. He knew he'd won me over.
I couldn't help myself, so I grinned back while shaking my head at him. "By God, I daresay you are."
A/N: Hi people! This is my new novella, 'L'Amour Masquée' :) But since SOMETHING -*Cough* Booksie *Cough* - doesn't want me to put accents in the title, it became 'L'Amour Masque'. Grrrr. Well, I had a lot of troubles writing this chapter, because I had a small case of writer's block, but I did i eventually! All thanks to Lauren and Don - I mean, Rhensis and Learner - for their support, so I'm dedicating this chapter to them ^.^ Yay! Now, this is actually also my entry for Melissa Alburney's 'How Did I End Up Here' Contest, so I hope it's a bit decent :) Please leave me a lovely comment to cherish! (I'm addited to orange boxes :D) Thank you so much!
P.S. I change my profile picture just for today, because the ice cream was kind of my trade mark, and I wanted to see if anyone recognized me ^.^ Now, be honest- did you? *Eyes narrowed*