The Courtier's Tale Ch. 04byzutoph507©
I'd like to offer a note to those of you who continue to enjoy this tale. I realise that it took a long time for me to post the last chapter because my last year was hectic and I had the worst writer's block I've ever had. My apologies to those of you who were waiting for it. I wanted it to be longer but I'm undecided on which of two directions to take the next part of the story.
Also, the respective ages of the main characters are somewhat important and I have yet to cover this ground. Marcel is 21, Joseph is 19, David and Francis are both 25, Elizabeth is 18 and Anna Montblanc is in her late thirties. Marcel is only a little older than his niece but is far more jaded.
I hope that clears up any questions you might have had. Please feel free to tear my story to bits if you like. Critiques help make me a better author.
Marcel tapped his foot impatiently while the grooms saddled his horse. It felt like months since he'd gone for a ride and he badly needed the escape.
"Are you alright, Uncle?"
Marcel looked over at Elizabeth and shrugged his shoulders. "Apart from being cooped up in this provincial territory with your mother? Oh yes, I'm quite fine."
Elizabeth smiled at him indulgently. "You both nettle each other, you know." He arched an eyebrow at her and she giggled. "I'm old enough to know what's going on, Uncle."
Marcel snorted a bitter laugh. "I highly doubt that."
"You don't get along with mama. I know that much for certain, Unc—"
"Oh please," He held up a hand in supplication, "I can hardly bear to be called 'uncle' continuously. You're making me feel old."
She laughed with good humour. "You are mama's younger brother, are you not?"
"Very much younger, my dear. I'm a mere three years older than you, after all." He sighed and gazed at the clouds. "I sometimes think my father must have been quite desperate for an heir by the time I was born."
"Desperate enough to spoil you terribly, according to mama."
"Your horse, my lord." Marcel was thankful their conversation was being interrupted. He was reluctant to speak ill of his sister to Elizabeth, much less of his childhood. It wouldn't do at all. The young man held the reins while he mounted the chestnut mare.
"Have my valet prepare a bath when I return."
"Of course, sir."
Marcel cantered away at a medium pace. A slow smile spread across his features. He intended to test the speed of his borrowed mare. As the house was lost from view, he leaned forward into the saddle, encouraging the mare to stretch out into a slow gallop. The steady pace of his niece's mare sounded close behind him as the wide meadows of Montblanc Manor spread out before him. He leaned further into the saddle and the chestnut raced across the green.
The feeling of speed and freedom was intoxicating. He nearly missed the high female cry behind him.
"Uncle! Uncle, slow down!"
He let out a long breath as he eased the mare back down to a canter. Elizabeth rode fast to catch up to him. "Unc—!"
"My name is 'Marcel', if you please."
She placed one hand on her hip in mock vexation. "I'm supposed to be showing you the countryside, unc--- Marcel."
"Much better, now say my name slowly as if you're savouring a fine liqueur."
She laughed. "Mama would be scandalized by such a suggestion, monsieur."
"Your mama isn't here." Her eyes twinkled at him, showing her dimples. "Very well then, show me the verdant canals and the vineyards. It's surely better than being indoors."
He allowed her to take the lead and spent a pleasant if somewhat dull afternoon riding through meadows and over low sprawling hills. On the way back to the manor he was surprised to catch sight of a large cottage seemingly tucked away on the outskirts of his sister's property.
"What's that, Elizabeth? It looks too large from here to be a woodsman's home."
She followed his gaze and smiled. "It's smaller than you imagine, Marcel." Small spots of colour rose in her cheeks. "That is where Mr. Colton lives."
Marcel's gaze turned predatory. "It's a fine day, my dear. I think I should like a closer look." Without waiting for a response he rode rapidly towards David's house.
It was a white washed affair with lead paned windows and a small barn nearby. There was a vegetable garden to one side of the house bordered by a low fence. This fence extended outward and engulfed a modest paddock. A fine fat cow munched hay lazily inside it.
Though the tiny holding was far smaller than anything Marcel was accustomed to, it was grand compared to most commoners.
"Does my sister rent this to him?"
Elizabeth shrugged. "I don't know, Marcel, but I would think so."
As Marcel sat his horse nearby, a small woman walked into view and began hanging out linens to dry. The lord frowned in annoyance. "Who on earth is that?"
"That's his house maid. She lives in the village and comes up to tend his affairs during the day."
Though he should have been reassured Marcel still felt hot spikes of jealousy prickling through him. He knew well enough what use he made of his own servants and easily imagined everyone else was the same. David Colton presented himself as honourable, but then, so did all men. "He treats her well then?"
Elizabeth's blank look spoke clearly of her innocence. "Why yes, I suppose so. Why do you ask, uncle?"
He rolled his eyes at her. "Back to that now are we?" He deliberately turned his horse away from the Colton residence.
Her features softened into a fond expression. "You are my uncle, Marcel."
"I know, I know." He put up one hand in mock surrender. "Still, perhaps we should arrange something between the two of us."
"Yes," he flashed a thoroughly wicked grin at her, "perhaps some kind of forfeit whenever you forget to call me by my name."
She laughed and they began the ride back towards the manor house.
David strolled easily through the garden pathways outside Montblanc Manor. Anna's summer party would be starting in just a few hours. Through the trees he could see servants scurrying to place tables, linens and lanterns in the appropriate locations. It would be a gala affair. The first country party of the season.
Of course it would be nothing like the over indulgent hedonism of Paris. A smile touched his lips briefly. How distressing to Marcel it must be to be missing the season at court! He nearly laughed aloud from the thought. Shaking his head, David walked onto the green and passed through the flocks of Anna's servants.
"David! Oh, do come over here, Monsieur Colton." Anna waved at him from a small table set in the shade. Elizabeth sat demurely beside her along with a handsome gentleman. Shoulder length golden curls framed an oval face that was a touch too pretty. Intelligent blue eyes regarded him as he approached.
"Madame Montblanc," he murmured respectfully and kissed her hand, "and Elizabeth of course." He gave his lovely student a warm smile.
Anna smiled indulgently at him. "David, this is Francis Montreaux, a friend of our family. Francis, Monsieur Colton, my daughter's music teacher."
David shook the man's hand, wondering if Marcel had met him yet. Surely this lovely young man would capture the lord's wandering eye. He glanced around nervously. Where was the irreverent nobleman?
"Are you alright, Monsieur Colton? You seem quite distracted." Francis's blue eyes settled on him as he spoke.
David tried to relax as a servant poured wine for him. "I was merely wondering where Lord Valmont had hidden himself."
The blonde man's brow rose ever so slightly. "Oh?"
David shrugged as casually as possible. "One never knows where the young lord might spring out of. I don't like to be surprised."
Anna tsked and fanned herself. "I believe my brother is taking his bath."
"This early in the day?"
Elizabeth smiled. "We were out riding this morning, Monsieur Colton. He loves to ride, but hates smelling like horses." She giggled prettily at him.
David's eyes returned to Francis. "Tell me, Monsieur Montreaux, have you met the lady's brother?"
All three of them stared at him for a moment. Francis smiled and casually sipped his wine. "Indeed I have, Marcel and I are childhood friends."
"For all the good it's done my brother." Anna sniffed. "Francis is of clean moral character. I thank God daily he hasn't been corrupted by Marcel's many indiscretions. A pity that you've not managed to set him on the straight path, Francis." Her dark eyes pinned the young man intently.
Francis seemed not to notice her intense scrutiny and smiled beautifully at her. "He's not likely to listen to me, Auntie."
The lady of the house was no longer listening. A deep scowl twisted her features and anger reddened her cheeks. "Andre! Attend me at once!" One of Anne's personal servants appeared by her side. She pointed a shaking finger at one of the male servants preparing for the party. "What is that creature doing out here?"
David realised the man was Marcel's valet and felt a moment of pity for him. Anna's distress had not gone unnoticed. A hush had fallen and all the other servants were staring at the lord's servant.
Andre responded to his lady with cool detachment. "He is well trained, Madame, I had thought it best to place him where his skills are of use."
"Remove him at once! I won't have him where my guests can see him."
David watched as Joseph inclined his head respectfully and strode back to the kitchens. He thought it odd the young man was out here without his lord. David had scarcely ever seen Marcel without him. "Your pardon, Madame, but I must be excused."
"Of course, Monsieur Colton." The Lady waved him away indulgently. David was relieved she didn't ask where he was going. He'd have had to tell her a plausible lie and he hated doing that.
David found the quiet valet standing under a tree some distance from the kitchens. No one else was nearby, for which David was thankful. "Monsieur? May I have a word with you, please?" The young man's head snapped upward. His eyes were red rimmed and David could see he'd been crying.
"Yes. Yes of course, monsieur." Joseph wiped his cheeks quickly and composed himself.
"Are you alright?"
Joseph eyed him warily. "What is your business with me, monsieur Colton?" he asked bluntly.
David frowned, although he wasn't strictly aristocracy, he was well bred enough to be offended. Even so, he chose to ignore the rudeness. "I wished to inquire after you, monsieur. Lord Valmont is—eccentric." He said carefully after a slight pause. The young servant's face was suddenly blank. Those dark eyes were alert and unfriendly. "Does your lord, ah, mistreat you?"
"Of course not, monsieur."
"Of course not." He echoed. "I merely wondered... well, perhaps I can help you. If you wished to leave your service—"
"Leave?" The valet's eyes were wide with disbelief. "Why would I want to do that?"
David had the grace to blush. Among men of rank such things were not openly discussed. "Your pardon. I had heard foul rumours. I merely—"
Again the valet interrupted. "I know what you heard." He lifted his chin and stared straight into David's eyes. "My family has served the Valmont House for five generations. It is an honour to carry his shoes. I won't abandon him to these provincial commoners," he sneered, "No matter what they choose to say of me."
He started to walk past but David grabbed his arm. "Where do you think you're going?"
The music teacher was shocked when Joseph wrenched himself from his grasp. "Don't touch me!" The other man stepped suddenly close. "You may be born a little higher than I, monsieur, but you are not above me. You're just another servant here, remember that."
Speechless, David stared after Joseph as he strode away.
Marcel rose from his bath with several of his sister's men to attend him. Their faces were carefully composed concealing the revulsion he knew they all felt. None of them moved to assist him as water dripped from his body onto polished stone. "Well? My lady sister ordered you to attend me, did she not?" They stole glances at one another before the youngest of them stepped forward. He wrapped a towel around Marcel, careful not to touch him directly. He was not amused. "This is ridiculous!" He grabbed the lad's wrist and pulled him close. "Are you afraid, boy? Afraid touching my skin will poison you or rot your manhood? Stupid peasants! Go! Get out of here if you don't know what you're doing. I'll have my gracious sister appoint someone else. Perhaps someone prettier?" He smiled nastily at them.
The boy in his grasp had turned white as a sheet. He leapt back when Marcel released him. One of the others cleared his throat noisily. "That won't be necessary, milord. Truly we was just being careful. Madame said—"
"I know what she said! You're as common as dirt, the lot of you! Now fetch my clothes and dress me." He snarled.
All three of them hastened to do his bidding. Marcel caught the young one by his arm. "Not you."
"Mi—milord, please..." the boy stammered as his eyes began to mist.
His lip curled in disdain. "Don't be absurd enough to believe I've any interest in you, dog. I need someone to dry me off."
"Yes, milord." He squeaked.
Between the three of them, they managed to task of drying and dressing him. Joseph had selected his attire earlier and left it easily to hand. Thank God they'd not been entrusted to that!
Marcel's mouth thinned. A bare month ago he'd appeared before his sister dressed in the finery Joseph suggested. He'd been apologetic and appropriately contrite. Although Anna had restored his right to leave his damned rooms, she'd been firm regarding his valet. The man was still allowed to attend him outside his rooms and bring his morning repast. However, Lord Valmont's bath and personal needs had been given over to three men of her choosing. Men so baseborn they practically stank of horses and spoke the worst French he'd ever heard outside a dockside brothel. None of them had the training a true body servant required. He wrinkled his nose. He was certain they'd rarely seen a bar of soap either.
They stepped away from him, wary and unsure. "Look at me. What do you louts suppose is missing?"
They wavered and looked stupidly at one another. "The shoes, you fools! I cannot walk about in my hose." The boy retrieved them and eyed his feet as though they were snakes. Marcel rolled his eyes and sat on a stool, crossing one leg over the other. "That should simplify the problem." Sarcasm dripped from each word but was lost on them. Relief flooded the boy's face as he carefully slid the shoes over silken hose.
"Get out. All of you."
They bowed clumsily and fled his suite. They were inept but watchful, spies no doubt. It hurt his pride that Anna could humiliate him this way.
Marcel poured a glass of red and stared out the long windows of his room.
Joseph walked quickly towards Marcel's suite. The ignorant peasants Anna had appointed in his place were no longer there. Joseph had seen them come through the servants quarters, sullen and anxious, some time ago. Although he was common born himself, his family were hardly from the midden heap. It irked him that such scum were allowed to breathe nearby his lord, much less touch him.
He paused outside the doors and collected himself. Marcel was often upset and prickly after their oafish attentions. He knocked softly before walking into the suite. Lord Valmont was looking out a window, his glass near empty. Marcel did not turn to face him.
"Where have you been, Joseph?"
The valet eyes went to the open bottle on the dresser. He'd brought the bottle while the lord had been riding, now it was less than half full. "I was running errands for the head of staff, my lord." He carefully corked the fine vintage. "It's nearly time for the party."
Joseph hesitated. Marcel sounded so sad. "I was sent to fetch you, my Lord Valmont."
This time Marcel turned and appraised him with dark eyes. "I'll pretend I didn't hear that. Pour me another glass." The lord dangled the glass carelessly between his fingers causing the remainder of wine to slosh like blood in a well.
Joseph sighed and put the bottle aside. Instead of filling Marcel's cup, he stepped close and began rearranging the lace at his throat. The lord's dark eyes widened. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Those men your sister gave you are not valets."
"Of course they aren't." growled Marcel but made no move to stop him.
"They put your clothes on you," his fingers deftly retied the lace he'd undone, "but they have no idea how a gentleman looks. No eye for detail, my lord." He stepped back and looked Marcel over critically. "It's a wonder they didn't leave soot marks all over you."
Marcel snorted, "They were hardly disposed to handling me over much."
"Well I'm grateful for that at least."
"Are you really?" Marcel put down his glass and pulled the valet close. "Perhaps I should handle you over much."
Joseph's heart began pounding in his chest. They hadn't been together in more than a week. Now was not the time, no matter that he wanted it. "My lord, your sister is expecting us."
Hands glided down his back to rest just his above his bottom. "Of course she is." The pressure of Marcel's fingers increased as he slid them lower. Joseph moaned and pressed his body against the other man.
Despite the heat coursing through him, Joseph spoke once more. "Please, my lord, we mustn't delay."
"Please, my lord." Marcel echoed. "You beg so beautifully." he panted in the valet's ear. "I feel your need against my hip, Joseph. Tell me you want me."
Dark eyes fluttered closed. "Yes, oh yes."
Joseph trembled, lost in his pleasure. "I want you. Yes, I want you."
Marcel released him suddenly and Joseph's eyes shot open. His lord walked to the door and put his hand on the latch. Marcel peered over his shoulder at him, a smug smile curling his lip. Anger rose in Joseph like a wave as Marcel began opening the door. The valet couldn't think he simply acted. The door was half-open when Joseph reached him. The younger man slammed it shut and pushed Marcel's back against it. He kissed the lord ferociously while he locked the door with one hand.
Joseph held Marcel there with his body, indulging in the forbidden embrace for several minutes. He pulled away from the savage kiss as it slowly dawned on him. Marcel wasn't fighting back. Those slender ringed fingers were tangled in his hair. The ribbon had been removed and Joseph's dark mane was hanging loose over his shoulders.
Marcel raised an eyebrow and smiled wickedly. "Such a temper. Perhaps later I shall punish you."
Joseph was confused and completely aroused. He pressed his hips solidly against Marcel, grinding their groins together. Marcel's eyes rolled with pleasure and he nipped Joseph's neck playfully. "God in heaven," he breathed into the valet's ear, "I can hardly wait to fuck you."
The truth occurred to him as he registered the way that Marcel tasted. "You're drunk, my lord." Deeply drunk and enjoying it.
"Perhaps. Kiss me more." Joseph remembered the last time he'd given in to his passion. When the lord sobered he'd been angry and cruel. Nonetheless he pressed his mouth over Marcel's, pushing his tongue deep into the man's mouth. Marcel moaned deeply.
Breaking the kiss, Joseph began to unlace himself. He growled into the other man's ear. "You are a slut, my lord." Marcel gasped in shock. He moved the lord's hand to his jutting rod. "Touch me, Lord Valmont. Feel how I want you."
Joseph could feel every ring on Marcel's fingers as they tightened and stroked him. He untied the lace cravat around Marcel's neck and ran his tongue over the hollow of that aristocratic throat.
Sharp knocking on the door startled them both. "My Lord Valmont? Lady Montblanc is growing impatient."