The Courtier’s Tale Ch. 05

Babes

Thank you all for being patient. I’m so busy these days and wanted to be able to submit a longer chapter. I’m going to do my best to get this finished and post at least once a month.

Feel free to rip it to shreds if you don’t like it. That helps to make me a better story teller. I hope you’ll enjoy the tale.

Xxxxxx

*

“Where have you been, Marcel?”

Lord Valmont gazed passively at his friend. Francis seemed quite put out. “I went for a walk…” he trailed off as his friend’s eyes darkened.

Francis stepped close. “A walk with Monsieur Colton? What possessed you to try him in the middle of a party?”

Marcel stared at Francis. “Try him? Be serious, Francis.”

His friend didn’t smile. “Please don’t lie to me, Marcel.”

“I… I never…”

“Fine. Keep your secrets then. Only hear me well, my friend. You must not pursue the man.”

The insolent smile came easily to Marcel’s features. “Oh Francis, I hardly think…”

“I don’t care what you think.” His friend was deadly serious. “Don’t you want to come home?”

Marcel drew Francis to one side, for once he was more sad than exuberant. “Of course I do. Father will forgive me eventually.”

Francis averted his eyes. “I really don’t think he will, unless you agree to certain things. It doesn’t matter anymore what the Valmont House will permit.” He said quietly. “The Beauxfort’s have made certain public allegations and Ambrose Valmont has to respond.”

Lord Valmont sighed heavily. “I cannot do what society asks of me, Francis. Father knows that, he has to!”

Francis rolled his eyes at him. “Honestly, when is this going to stop? You’re a mature adult now or so we all hope. Ambrose is not a young man, my friend. One day soon the House will fall to you!”

Marcel arched an eyebrow at his friend. “Meaning what exactly?”

Francis’s mouth tightened. “You’re not a boy anymore.” He poked Marcel in the chest. “This way you’ve found to irritate your father and scandalise your sister has gone on long enough. It’s past time to lay aside your childish rebellion and behave properly!” Scowling, Francis strode away from him.

The hurt of it nearly shocked Marcel sober. Did Francis actually believe his desires were mere artifice? The young lord felt his eyes begin to mist. He shook his head and went in search of a much stronger drink.

Xxxxx

“So here you are.”

Marcel raised sleepy eyes towards the sound. The edges of his world had grown softly blurry long ago. He blinked trying to bring the man walking towards him into proper focus.

“Come and help me. He’s spent the remainder of the evening in this tiny parlour I’m sure.” Lord Montreaux’s disappointed face gained abrupt clarity. His friend picked up the now empty cognac bottle. “Drinking himself stupid in the dark.”

“Don’t talk like I’m not here…” Marcel slurred at him.

A second pair of hands wrapped gently around his arm. Joseph’s face was sad but compassionate. “You must stand up my Lord.”

“I’ll take his other arm.” Francis sighed heavily. The two of them half dragged him to his feet.

“I’m fine… fine…”

“My Lord, please… your room is this way.”

“I know the bloody way to my room… damned prison…”

“Keep your voice down!” Francis sounded quite frustrated. “The party’s over and there are house guests about.”

Marcel wanted to shout just to spite them. However, Joseph kept one hand on his lower back and whispered soothing phrases into his ear. The sensation was pleasant and mildly arousing.

Fortunately he’d chosen an upper room to drink in so they had no stairs to navigate. Once they gained his room, Francis let out a long breath. “Are you alright Marcel?”

Lord Valmont leaned against the wall and regarded his friend. “I’ll be fine… yes… fine…” It dawned on him that Joseph was still supporting him. The younger man’s slender arms around his waist felt wonderful. Impulsively he drew Joseph closer, embracing him.

“God in heaven!” Francis exclaimed. “Let me help you, boy. I dare say you’ll be in trouble if you try to put him in bed by yourself.”

Joseph flushed only a little. “It’s no trouble, my Lord Montreaux, please allow me to attend him.”

“I doubt that’s wise. Look here boy, this man is likely to do God only knows what to you if I leave this room.”

“As you say, my lord. I’m used to him. Please… I’ll be fine.”

After a lengthy pause, Francis began walking to the door. “Very well, I’ll leave you to it. If there’s a problem you may ring for the staff.”

“Of course, my lord.”

They listened to the clicking of his friend’s shoes followed by the soft thud of the outer doors closing. Marcel lay his head on Joseph’s shoulder and closed his eyes.

“My Lord Valmont? I really ought to lock the door.”

“No… not yet.” Marcel felt better able to stand unsupported. He slipped his hands beneath the other man’s vest, sliding them up his spine. Joseph arched his back slightly in a way Marcel had dreamed David would do. Just thinking of the Irish etiler escort Harpist made Marcel harden. The arms around the young lord shifted their grip. Slender fingers traced the outline of his rod through his breeches. Marcel’s hands slipped back down and caressed narrow hips. David is shaped much this way he mused to himself. As those fingers began to unlace him, Marcel kissed the man’s jaw line and whispered into his ear. “You’re so beautiful, David.”

The other man stepped suddenly out of his arms. White pain seared his cheek as Joseph slapped him hard. He grabbed the edge of a nearby table to keep from falling.

His valet was striding towards the door. “Joseph! Wait… you can’t leave! I… I command you…”

The man paused with his hands on the handles of the outer doors. Dark eyes glared at him over a liveried shoulder. Then he was through them and gone.

Marcel knew he could not follow him. The manor was full of guests and chasing after his servant would not go unnoticed. Lord Valmont laid his burning cheek against the coolness of the painted wall. “Don’t go…” He murmured feeling unaccountably bereft.

Xxxxxx

“Ugh! Just look at you!” Marcel blinked open tired eyes to look owlishly at him. Marcel’s waistcoat was bunched around his middle and he was wearing only one shoe. Otherwise the lord was still dressed and sprawled on top of his quilted covers. His hair was tangled hopelessly in his ribbon. “Your man servant did a terrible job of putting you to bed.” Francis walked over to the window and pulled the drapes aside.

“Dammit! It’s too cursed bright!” Marcel covered his face with his hands. “What time is it?”

“Far too early in the morning, my friend.” He settled himself on the bed beside the spoiled courtier. “You’re expected to attend breakfast. I’m trying to ensure you’re there on time. I understand you’ve been habitually late to these small family functions.”

Marcel sat up and stared incredulously at him. “Are you serious? My head hurts, Francis! I can’t possibly face anyone before noon.”

Francis was sympathetic but he hated to see Marcel suffer more than necessary. “Your sister will have a fit if you don’t come down this morning.” He said quietly, “Some of Anna’s guests are whispering about your ‘unseemly drunkenness’. Please Marcel, at least pretend to be well.” Marcel groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’ll outright beg you, my friend. Do it for me?”

“Alright! Leave off already. Where the hell is my tea?”

“I’m sure it’s coming soon.” Francis noticed the shadow on Marcel’s cheek and frowned. “What’s that?”

“Hmm?” The blonde lord gripped Marcel’s chin gently and turned the shadowed spot to the light. “What are you doing?”

“Is this a bruise, Marcel?”

The soft click of men’s shoes on the parquet floor interrupted them. Marcel’s valet placed a laden tray of tea and toast on the side table. Francis ignored him and examined the mark. “How did this happen?”

His friend’s eyes were fastened on the servant pouring tea. “I slipped… perhaps I hit my head on that table.”

“Perhaps? Don’t you remember what happened?”

“Of course I do!” his friend exploded. The valet’s dark expressionless eyes appraised the two lords before being lowered discreetly. The man handed Marcel his teacup without a single word.

“No matter. If you were too drunk to be careful I suppose you deserved it.”

Oddly, Marcel looked away, plucking at his ruined lace. “Would you give us a moment, Francis? I’d like a private word with my valet.”

Francis laughed without humour. “So you can dawdle and grope the poor lad shamelessly? Not a chance, Marcel.”

“Please excuse me, my lords, I need to see if Lord Valmont’s bath is ready.” Francis flicked his fingers in dismissal and the young man bowed and left the room.

Marcel was staring at him with a wounded expression on his face. “Don’t look at me like that. I’m trying to help you.”

“Oh yes? You force me awake, blind me with sunlight and refuse to let me speak with my servant. Why? So I can pretend I don’t drink outrageously and have a nice cheerful breakfast with a sexless shrew. How does that help me, Francis?”

“Eat your toast.” Francis said wearily.

“I asked you a question.”

“Yes, I heard you.” Francis shifted uncomfortably. “Hurry up and eat that. Your valet will be back soon.”

Marcel ate only a small amount before Joseph returned. Francis accompanied them to the bathing room. He watched with mild interest as Joseph attended his friend. The man undressed Marcel in a brisk and entirely impersonal manner. It was like watching someone strip a statue.

“Are you going to stay in here with us?” Marcel asked as he stepped into the porcelain tub.

Francis seated himself on a small bench by the window. “Of course.”

“Oh of course! How daft of me to presume I might be allowed a moment of privacy.”

“Don’t be like that. You cannot be late this morning, Marcel.”

“Cannot? Have you been hiding something from me, Francis?” Lord Montreaux looked escorts out the window, feeling distressed. “Yes you have, haven’t you?” Marcel made a disgusted noise. “I don’t suppose you’ll tell me why you’re conspiring with my family to torture me?”

“Torture you!” France was nearly speechless. “Are you really so spoiled? We all care for you…” Marcel shot him a dark look as Joseph worked the soap through his lord’s long hair. “I care about you.”

For several moments Marcel did not respond. “I know you do, Francis. I also know that my family has a habit of punishing me for my ‘moral lapses’. Most gentleman gamble, drink and whore without too much fuss. Why can’t they leave me to it and pretend ignorance when asked?” Joseph poured water over Marcel in a gentle stream and then the lord stood up. “The question that truly bothers me is why they would involve you?”

Francis was beginning to feel conflicted. Nonetheless, he’d made a promise and intended to keep it. “I’m hoping this attitude about your family will change in time.”

“Not a chance of that, my friend.” Marcel peered suspiciously at him as Joseph towelled him off. “Why on earth would you hope that? I’d surely become hopelessly dull in a fortnight.”

Francis crossed his arms over his chest. “I anticipate being wed to your niece at the end of the season.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Your sister has given me permission to court Elizabeth and your father approves the match—“

“She’s my niece! She’s a child, Francis!” Marcel was shouting at him now. Despite that, Francis was determined to remain civilized.

“She’s a young woman and I adore her.”

“Oh yes? She’s the heiress of all of this, you mean.” Marcel gestured at the walls around them. “A richer holding than your father’s own, I’ll warrant. You’re what, the third son of Lord Giles Montreaux?”

“I won’t deny the dowry is impressive.” He answered slowly.

“You can’t bloody deny it!”

“Young or not, she’ll be wed to someone within the next two years. You know that very well, Marcel.” Silence stretched taut between them as Marcel was dressed in fresh clothes. “I love her.”

At length Marcel pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “Alright… I’d rather it were you, I suppose.”

“The scope of your praises dazzle me.” He said dryly.

Marcel didn’t answer him. His valet was arranging the lace at his throat and Marcel’s gaze was fixed on the man. Although the servant did not meet his lord’s eyes, Joseph’s expression remained placid.

“You’re not even listening to me, Marcel.”

His friend looked sideways at him. A heartbeat later he smirked. “Say something noteworthy and perhaps I will mark you.” Marcel’s colourful brocade doublet swooshed around him as he turned on his heel and stalked out.

Xxxxx

Marcel had a beastly headache. The sound of his shoes striking the tiles was nearly intolerable. The bright morning sunlight made him wince whenever he passed a window and in Anna’s house it happened far too often. The stairs were the worst. His head throbbed so badly that he felt as though he was going to fall over sideways on more than one occasion.

When he reached the bottom of the monstrous curving stairway, Marcel gripped the railing tightly for several moments.

“My lord? Are you well?” Joseph’s soft voice sounded gentle in his ears. Marcel stared at him as Francis tapped his foot impatiently.

“Marcel. We must arrive before the meal is served.”

“Oh must we?” he asked sarcastically. “One wonders what my dear sister has in store for me then.” He fell into step beside his old friend. “I’m sure you know, don’t you Francis?”

“Please… we’re almost there. Don’t ask me to tell you.”

Marcel’s mouth tightened into a line. Betrayal was a bitter draught indeed.

Anna was using the formal breakfast room. The long and regal table was thronged with the two dozen lords and ladies that composed her intimate circle. Marcel noted that both he and Francis had been left places nearby the other members of his family. He inclined his head to Anna and seated himself. Joseph stood nearby and poured his tea.

Elizabeth smiled happily. “Good morning to you, Uncle.”

Marcel sipped amber liquid from his porcelain cup. “What did I tell you about calling me that?” He asked irritably. Watching Elizabeth wilt beneath his tone caused him a moment of regret.

Anna scowled at him. “I wonder what you did tell her, Marcel.” Some of the assembly stopped their chatter to turn curious eyes toward them.

Marcel smiled without humour. “My dearest sister, I can assure you I meant no harm.”

His sister looked at though she’d swallowed a cupful of vinegar. “Elizabeth is my daughter, brother dear, I would ask you to defer to me in these matters henceforth.” He knew that Anna was controlling herself in front of company. The light scolding was much too civilized to have been the thing she’d wanted to say.

He returned his attention to his niece who pouted prettily next to Francis. “Your pardon, my dear. Tell me, how bagcilar escort did you enjoy your party?”

She brightened instantly. “Oh Uncle, it was ever so much fun! Francis danced with me and said I have extraordinary talent on the harp.”

“Oh, I can assure you that I was but one among many.” Francis purred sweetly at her and kissed her fingertips. “Your niece has many admirers, I shall have to be vigilant.”

His friend’s smile repulsed Marcel and his mood darkened. He glanced at his sister who was ignoring Francis’ overly familiar caresses. Marcel’s chest tightened painfully and his heart ached. He loved Francis and he always had. Now his friend was flaunting his disgusting happiness right in front of him! “Is it quite proper to be touching my niece so intimately, Francis?” His friend froze and slowly turned blue eyes on him. “I’d hate to see the poor girl’s reputation compromised, after all.” Quiet descended on the room whilst Francis glared at him incredulously.

“Don’t be absurd, Marcel.” Anna’s controlled fury cut through the silence like a blade. “Lord Francis Montreaux is my daughter’s intended husband. They’ve my leave to prolong their courtship over the following year until suitable nuptial arrangements can be made.” The assembled guests whispered urgently among themselves. Elizabeth’s delighted surprise confirmed Marcel’s suspicion that no such decision had yet been reached. Several young gentlemen stiffly congratulated Francis on his good fortune. Lord Valmont wondered if his sister had wanted to prolong the moment for some months to come. She’d have been able to accrue many costly gifts toward Elizabeth’s dowry before announcing the preferred candidate. Forcing Anna’s hand by casting doubt on Lord Montreaux’s suitability gave him a vengeful pleasure.

Elizabeth chattered excitedly about her engagement throughout the remainder of the meal. Francis listened to her patiently and nodded at appropriate intervals. Marcel tried not to hear them as his headache worsened. The chatter around him was uncommonly loud and everything in sight seemed to be made of glass or crystal. Sunlight reflected savagely off the crockery, slicing into his brain.

Finally breakfast was over and Anna rose to see her guests to the outer foyer. Elizabeth stood up as well, clearly expecting Francis to accompany her. Instead, he kissed her on the cheek. “I’ll see you later, my dear. Your mother and brother have much to discuss with me.”

“Oh! Of course you do, Francis, how thoughtless of me. We’ll go for a stroll later then?”

“Of course.” As she left the room Lord Montreaux’s eyes met his, glittering fiercely. “What is wrong with you?” Francis growled at him.

“Me? Why my sister and I have much to discuss with you, shouldn’t I be put out that no one bothered to inform me of this momentous arrangement?”

“Are you being obtuse deliberately? You know I couldn’t tell her what’s really going on!”

“How comforting to know my niece isn’t yet plotting my destruction! Tell me; what is ‘really going on’, Francis?” He was screaming at his friend although that only made his head hurt more savagely.

Francis regarded him silently and adopted a calmer tone. “Are you always so evil tempered after drinking yourself into a stupor?” he asked coldly.

“Perhaps you should have let me sleep!” Marcel snarled back.

“I was trying to do you a courtesy.”

“Oh yes? May God preserve us from Lord Montreaux’s courtesy!”

Those familiar blue eyes narrowed and his friend would have spoken had Anna not returned. She regained her seat and glowered at him. “Do you know what you have cost me Marcel?”

His smile was cloying and entirely insincere. “A large pile of pretty presents? Don’t be sad, dear sister, after all Elizabeth already has an impressive dowry. Besides that, it would seem the Montreaux’s are more than happy to add your lands to theirs by selling their third born son to us.”

“That is quite enough!” Her furious tone only made him want to push his luck further.

“I should think it’s not nearly enough. Truly I’m just dying to know what forcing me to breakfast with your provincial rabble was meant to accomplish.” He stood suddenly and bared his teeth at them. “So what is it then, Anna? I would wager that Francis knows your mind and I do not.” She looked sharply at his friend. “Oh, no need to fret, Francis has kept your filthy secrets.” The pain in his head flared again before receding to a dull roar. “Out with it!”

“Sit. Down.” There was something in his sister’s tone that made him pause. “Although I would love to see our father throw you out on your disgusting over used arse, I promised to offer his terms.”

Marcel sank back into his seat. “Terms?”

She curled her lip disdainfully. “How you must long to return to that city of perdition, my brother. I’m sure your whores must miss you terribly.”

Marcel’s gaze shifted to Francis who would not meet his eyes. “What kind of terms?”

Anna arched a brow; her satisfied expression made his chest tighten. She rang a little silver bell and a servant entered bearing a tray. As the boy approached her, She lifted two folded letters from it and dismissed him. Her smile grew predatory. “Our father is disturbed by certain complaints the Beauxfort household has made against us.”