As promised, to celebrate the release of Bastien on May 5, 2012, here is this week’s chapter. If you haven’t read chapter one, you can find it here. Be warned, there is adult content in it. Happy reading!
A week has gone by and no one has appeared on my doorstep to challenge me. I take it as a sign Christine’s family has decided to bear their humiliation in private to preserve the marriage contract. A shame, really. A proper duel would go a long way to relieving this wretched ennui.
It’s at times like these I miss the court. There, at least, the air was fragrant with intrigue and politics. I could walk into a room and have every set of eyes turn my way. I had only to smile and a wave of hissing whispers passed through the crowd. It’s a mark of a true spy when he can be recognized as one and manage to glean scandalous secrets out of everyone regardless.
Perhaps I should send a missive to Arnaud. Of course, he won’t allow me anywhere near his court again without a very public apology, and that I will never do. It’s not my fault the courtiers made a confessionary of me for the pleasure of my bed. If they did not want their secrets revealed, they shouldn’t have whispered them in my ear.
I sigh with only the slightest of regrets as I stand before a bookcase in my library, a glass of wine in one hand and Madame Bordeaux’s book in the other, wondering where to catalog her chronicles. The volume deserves a place of honor, if for no other reason than it being dedicated to me. And the fact that I feature rather prominently between its pages. The lady, of course, had impeccable manners and didn’t name any of her lovers. Nevertheless, she did personally deliver an autographed copy of her book to each of us as a memento of our time together.
My dedication reads, To my Lord Bastien, with fond memories of the nights we spent together and covetous wishes for more. A fond smile brings something akin to warmth to the barren cockles of my unused heart at the teasing reminder of her graceful coup de grâce.
I remember the night I met the lovely Madame. I was drunk on a new shipment of the smoothest Bordeaux I’ve ever tasted and on the prowl for an able bodied companion to share it with. I stepped rather precariously into the establishment, proclaiming myself to be High King Cocksworth the Ravisher and demanding a virgin to be sacrificed on my majestic blow horn. The scene was later described to me in great detail by several of the helpful lads who attempted to remove me from the building.
“Stop!” a commanding and distinctly female voice cried. I looked up, blinked past the blur of inebriation to behold an angel in a silk gown of such deep red it was nearly black. She glided down the staircase and dismissed my manhandlers with nothing more than a regal nod. “Come with me,” she said, and like a lost pup I followed her obediently back to her chamber.
She introduced herself as the Madame and refused to give her real name. I’ll freely admit I was not at my sharpest that night, but I found myself intrigued by the lady. Every attempt at learning her true identity was met with craft and wit and for an hour at least we engaged in a bout of verbal fencing I’ve never experienced before or since. Coy is not a word to describe her. She was masterful, yes. Charming beyond measure, enticing and earthy, but never coy. Men loved her because she loved them, it was as simple as that.
On that night, with a half empty bottle of spirits in my hand and much more of it in my belly, I named her Madame Bordeaux. Her laugh was a delightfully gutsy, artless sound that invited me to join her, unlike the tittering of overbred young maidens.
I like to think it was a stroke of destiny that hers was the brothel I stumbled into that night. Her tutelage proved to be most… enlightening. Madame Bordeaux took great pride in her work. The art of pleasure was her passion and in that quest, nothing was too sacred, nothing was forbidden. We found in each other a counterpart most willing to dive into anything head first or arse backward and jointly devoted two blissful years to the study of the limits of human pleasure. Then she kindly and with infinite grace broke off our relationship, and we went our separate ways.
If pressed, I would say I miss her.
I set my glass on the floor and pull several tomes from the shelf closest to eye level, tossing them carelessly to the ground. When half of it is clear, I separate the remainder of the books and push them to either edge. Madame Bordeaux’s volume takes its rightful place in the center, with the cover facing outward.
I trace the gilded lettering. Selfish bitch. She was the picture of pleasance the day she delivered her gift. She offered smiles and platitudes, politely declining my invitation to tea, supper, or sex. The woman presented me with the book, kissed my cheek and got back into her carriage, waving good-bye as it rolled away.
Two weeks later a nameless child messenger informed me the Madame had succumbed to consumption. She never said a word, not one indication she might be in need of assistance. If nothing else, I could have made her final days the most beautiful of her life. But in all our time together, she never asked for anything. And I never did offer. Ours was a simple relationship, based on our mutual respect for each other’s remove. Our shared interest in sex and easy conversation was, in fact, all we ever shared of ourselves.
After five years I still wonder whether the reason she never told me about her illness was because she expected me to turn her away. The thought has me reaching for my glass once more.
“Bastien, you amoral bastard, where the hell are you?”
I need not even raise an eyebrow at that insolent below. As the footsteps rush past the library door, I whistle loudly to announce myself. The intruder returns and the door pushes open. “Ah, there you are. At your books again? Good God, you must be bored out of your mind.”
I look over my shoulder at him. “And it’s a pleasure to see you, too, old friend.”
Louis laughs. “I am here to rescue you out of this dreary prison. You and I are going into town tonight.” Louis Lafarge, son and heir of his Baron father is the closest thing to my equal within miles. His family has been granted the lands on the other side of Fauve, which supply the village with grain.
Louis and I understand each other on a level not many others can grasp. Where I have a thought, I find Louis is already putting it into action. Where he has a hankering for a raucous adventure, I know just where to find it. He was the one who explained to me the merits of spying at court—and also the one who got me in trouble for it. But what’s a little scandal between friends? The one thing I can always count on with Louis is that he will rather start a peasant rebellion than let either of us wallow in boredom.
A man could not ask for a better comrade.
“Another night of sin and debauchery?” I ask.
He grins and says, “Better. Mon ami, this night will change your life!”
“I can hardly wait,” I say dryly, but find myself rousing to the prospect of something new. In these isolated parts, any novelty is a thing to be savored. One never knows when another might happen by. I call for my carriage to be prepared while I dress and fill a pouch with coin and a bauble or two. Like novelties, women are to be grasped whenever possible, and nothing snares one’s eye better than the glitter of gem and gold. I have a chest full of them for precisely that purpose.
“Another night out, my Lord?” Jacques inquires as I pass him in the great hall. His nose is uncharacteristically in the air. My butler and head of my household is impeccably trained to keep his goddamned mouth shut. Whatever has him in a snit should not matter to me in the least, and yet I discover that my mood is souring, which only serves to anger me.
“Is there something requiring my attention?” I snap.
“A messenger from Lady Christine’s father brought this note.” He offers it on a silver platter, already opened. “It would seem the engagement is broken. As you may know, the Count puts on great appearances, but is deeply in debt and in dire need of the coin the marriage contract would have brought to his coffers. Now that it is not to be, he inquires as to your intentions toward his daughter. Her reputation is of a great concern to him.”
His coffers are most likely the greater concern. I scowl at the butler pointedly avoiding my gaze. Snatching up the letter, I crumple it into a ball and toss it on the hearth fire. “The short answer, Jacques, was ‘no, my Lord Bastien.’”
He bows away without a word.
“Bastien!” Louis calls impatiently.
I snarl at nothing and follow him out to the carriage.