Marquis Fabien de Vendôme stood on the open balustrade of the royal palais chateau at Chambord, resting his muscled shoulder against the broad marble embrasure. He fixed his attention below in the courtyard where voices shouted and horse hooves clattered over stone.
Another burst of activity erupted near the gate. The king’s cuirrasiers, garbed in black and crimson, sporting brass and steel, threw open the double gate. Riders thundered into the courtyard as though pursued by fiendish gargoyles.
Fabien recognized le Duc de Guise mounted on a black charger with a jeweled harness and gold velvet housing edged in green braid. Guise’s men-at-arms followed, bearing the flag of the House of Guise from the duchy of Lorraine.
Fabien straightened from the embrasure, clamping his jaw. The secret rumblings of hatred smoldered in the rocky caverns of his soul at the sight of the duc.
Le Duc de Guise looked up toward the balcony. His gaze appeared to search, as if he could sense a burning pit of hellish emotions attacking him from somewhere, as if he was a jackal smelling a rotting carcass to feed upon.
Then le Duc de Guise locked gazes with Marquis Fabien.
Guise’s lips turned into a hard, faintly mocking smile. Fabien smiled in return and offered a bow.
Guise turned his head away and peered over his shoulder toward the gate. He raised a gloved hand whereupon a masked, black-cowled rider burst through the turret gates, dusty, his horse sweating. Fabien tensed. Who was this? A moment later the duc’s men-at-arms tightened their escort around the mysterious rider, encircling him within their midst.
Is Guise protecting the masked figure or confining him? Why the cowl and mask? Fabien narrowed his gaze, as if by staring he could bore through the mask to identify the messire.
He was here at Chambord at the invitation of the boy-king Francis and his petite reinette, Mary of Scotland, but not to become ensnared in whatever ongoing intrigue the House of Guise was presently hatching.
Fabien left the balcony. Patience, he reminded himself. The longawaited hour to apportion revenge upon the head of le Duc de Guise would eventually dawn.
The marquis pulled his brows together as he walked along the gilded salle in the direction of his chambers. If anyone at court understood the reasons behind the unexpected arrival of Guise, it would be Comte Sebastien Dangeau, a member of Catherine de Medici’s privy council and Fabien’s relative through marriage.
Sebastien’s position was a precarious one since the House of Guise might discover he was of the Huguenot faith. There were other Calvinists at court, and they too walked the edge of a precipice. One faux pas and they would slip from the slope into the bloodied clutches of the Guise brothers’ inquisitional penchant.
Comte Sebastien Dangeau, upon hearing that le Duc de Guise had ridden into the courtyard with a masked rider, joined other esteemed courtiers on one of the balconies. He held back, keeping behind the others so as to not be seen, as he managed a survey of the courtyard.
Sebastien’s gaze stumbled over a masked figure cowled in black, being escorted by some dozen men-at-arms under the proud flag of le Duc de Guise. The duc himself led the way into the palais. No doubt on his way to see the king. Ah but yes, there is something familiar about the hesitant gait of that hooded figure —
Footsteps pattered up behind him, the scampering feet reminding him of a mouse — or a rat?
Sebastien turned sharply. His gaze lowered to rest upon an expressionless face with brown eyes. The Italian demoiselle stared up at him. She was Madalenna, the young servant girl in bondage to the queen regent, Catherine de Medici. The Queen Mother had brought Madalenna with her from Florence, Italy, when Catherine first came to France to marry Henry Valois II. Madalenna, secretive, spying; Madalenna, always approached in a whisper of movement, emerging from some shadowy corner where one least expected to see her. Madalenna the spy.
Madalenna curtsied. “Monsieur le Comte, my mistress, Her Majesty the Queen Mother, bids you come to her state chambers tout de suite.” Sebastien glanced again toward the courtyard, then turned and departed for the chambers of the Queen Mother, known by those who knew her best as Madame le Serpent.
Mademoiselle Rachelle Macquinet felt her heart thump and a trickle of perspiration ran down her rib cage. This was to be the telling moment. All she had labored for these many weeks, sometimes working twelve hours a day, would be held to the crucible of scrutiny. For this day Princesse Marguerite Valois, the youngest daughter of the Queen Mother, would try on the unfinished gown. The cut and flow, the stitching, all must be exact. Rachelle would measure and tack the hem with a steady but feathery hand and bring the gown back to her chamber to complete tomorrow. The gown was but one of several in various degrees of completion, however this particular gown was mostly Rachelle’s work, and her future as a couturière depended on the princesse’s pleasure.
Rachelle, a grisette from the Chateau de Silk in Lyon, was yet under the supervision of the grand couturière herself, Henriette Marie Loiselle Dushane, otherwise known to Rachelle as her adored grandmère, a dainty widow in unrelieved black satin, with silver hair and sparkling dark eyes. Rachelle knew her to be no easy mistress with the needle, nor did Rachelle wish her to be otherwise. It was her desire to follow in her steps.
Rachelle stood on the terrace of the royal chambers facing Princesse Marguerite and her ladies-in-waiting. Her wine velvet pincushion with her initials, R.D.M., was strapped to her wrist with a black velvet band, while a pair of specialized Dushane scissors swung from the chatelaine. Her measuring strip draped about her slender neck. She took the widths of sheer burgundy silk, draped gently over the cloth of gold, and with trembling fingers allowed it to fall gracefully over Marguerite’s dark hair. The garment settled softly around her feet, shimmering.
“Ooh . . .” came the sigh of the ladies-in-waiting.
“C’est magnifique,” Marguerite purred, holding a section of the silk to her cheek. “It is perfect. La, la, Rachelle, you will always do my gowns. I insist. You and your famous Grandmère.”
“Merci, Mademoiselle Princesse.” Rachelle curtsied, dipping her head and offering a quick thanksgiving to God. “But the work, it is not yet finished. If it please my lady princesse, I would measure now for the hem and the addition of the Brugesse lace.”
Marguerite stepped onto the small stool, and Rachelle knelt to smooth out the folds on the bottom of the gown.
Marguerite spread her arms gracefully, lifting her face toward the March breeze and allowing the sparkling material to float. “Monsieur Henry should see me now,” she whispered, drama in her voice. “Ah, but he is not here . . .”
Her ladies uttered sounds of sympathy.
Rachelle admired Grandmère’s embroidery work on the burgundy silk. The tiny gold rosebuds were sewn with a secret stitch Grandmère had perfected at the Macquinet Chateau de Silk, and Rachelle was determined to master the stitch as well. She was already practicing on leftover sections of silk. Each section of crafted rosebuds left a glittering mound of gold thread, yet the silk material around it lay smooth and unpuckered, a most difficult technique to master. Rachelle could only marvel. Not even Maman could make a perfect rosebud, and Maman too was a seasoned couturière.
The gown shimmered with Princesse Marguerite’s every movement. Diamonds could be added to the bodice after the gown was finished, but only under the watchful eye of a guard. Rachelle had no desire to handle the diamonds. A tale had circulated at court of a certain grisette, who during the reign of King Francis I, had stolen rubies meant for the queen’s bodice. The grisette, believed to have swallowed them, was sent to the Bastille. Rachelle shuddered, imagining what had befallen the woman. As for Marguerite’s gown, Rachelle was of the opinion that any addition of diamonds would add little to its beauty, but the princesse insisted on jewels, jewels, and more jewels.
To Rachelle, Grandmère represented the heart of the family silk enterprise, for she had carried with her all of the prized secrets of silk weaving, when as a Dushane, she had married into the Macquinet family, who had been their competitors.
Rachelle was thrilled when Grandmère had first been summoned to court by Queen Regent Catherine de Medici to design and oversee the intricate cutting and sewing of gowns in the new shades of Macquinet lavender blue, rosy pink, and the deep burgundy that was Rachelle’s favorite. This newer cloth had been developed in Lyon, known for the finest silk weavers in France, a matter of which Rachelle was most proud.
Princesse Marguerite desired a dozen new gowns, and eighteen-yearold Mary Stuart of Scotland, the new Queen of France through her recent marriage to seventeen-year-old King Francis II, wanted two gowns and a farthingale. The queen regent, Catherine, however, wore naught but black since the death of her husband.
Rachelle shuddered suddenly. She remembered what Grandmère told her and her sister Idelette after meeting with the Queen Mother in her state chambers. Catherine, after asking Grandmère questions about silk in general, had then casually inquired about its possibilities as a medium.
“I have heard of a certain deadly poison being used in silk undergarments in the twelfth-century Moslem East by harem women wishing to remove a dangerous foe. Is this so, Madame Henriette?”
Grandmère, the emissary for the Dushane-Macquinet Chateau de Silk at court, had confessed to the Queen Mother she had heard such things but knew naught how such murders of ancient times were committed.
Afterward, Grandmère returned to the Macquinet chamber looking troubled. She had commented: “Remove a dangerous foe, she said, I vow! Such liberty these royal persons take with the French language. Her study of my person after I deliberately interchanged the word murder gave me a tingle, I assure you. Murder, or if you prefer, assassination, continues unabated in the courts of Europe, not merely among the Moslem Turks.”
Rachelle was helping with the cutting and sewing of the princesse’s gowns while Idelette, more advanced than she, was assisting Grandmère with Mary of Scotland, now Queen of France, everyone’s charmante darling — except the Queen Mother’s.
The Macquinet women, entitling themselves the Daughters of Silk, had departed Lyon two months earlier by calèche and wagon for the journey to the Louvre Palais in Paris. However, soon after their arrival the boy-king’s health had so deteriorated that the doctor had advised the royal family to leave the unhealthy air of Paris in search of fairer weather in the French countryside, where fragrant greenery and flowers adorned the region of Touraine.
So once again the Daughters of Silk had overseen the tedious packing of their supplies, which included large rolls of various cloths wound on smooth ash wood lined with velvet to protect the filaments, and they had traveled to Blois.
Rachelle and Idelette had assisted the younger grisettes-in-training to pack the Genoan velvets, the brocades with interwoven threads of gold or silver, and of course, the Dushane-Macquinet silk. They had carried lace of every variety: ivory Alençon with tiny rosettes, the heavier Brugesse so wonderfully used for ruffles and clusters in diagonal shapes, the princely Burgundy style used for softer draping of waterfalls at the throat, and edging that was gathered on cuffs.
So also had many of the sewing and design instruments journeyed with them in wagons, for Grandmère insisted the equipage used at court was not as fine as her own.
The large trunks were a sight to behold and always thrilled Rachelle. They were embossed, either in gold or silver, with the famous name Dushane-Macquinet emblazoned with artistic flair.
Upon their arrival here at the Chambord palais chateau, she had been amused to see wondrously garbed servants bearing the trunks on their shoulders in a long, somber train as though they carried the remains of a king. “A flurry of trumpets would be a pleasant touch,” Rachelle had whispered with a subdued laugh to Idelette.
Each of the Daughters also carried a personalized hand case: Grandmère’s was gold-embossed Italian leather; Idelette had chosen a deep rose brocade; and Rachelle, who had recently received the honneur of becoming a full-fledged grisette before departing Lyon, had chosen the burgundy velvet out of a secret infatuation for the good-looking Marquis Fabien de Vendôme, born of the princely Bourbon blood.
Each of their names was inscribed in gold on their small case, which contained all manner of sewing equipment. Rachelle and Idelette were in the process of earning additions to their treasure of special needles, pins, cutting instruments, and spools of colored silk thread — some from Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands.
Presently, as she knelt before the stool where the princesse stood in pose, Rachelle considered her work as anything but elegante. She was perspiring beneath the direct sunlight which blazed down unsparingly. Her undergarments were binding tightly about her middle, and an annoying section of her thick auburn hair had come loose from its pins to hang across her damp cheek and neck while she stooped, bent, and crawled around the princesse, gauging the hemline on the draping cloth of gold for accuracy. She slipped her highly sharpened Italian pins into the cloth of gold as sparingly as possible so as not to leave marks. It would be to her shame if she snagged a single filament of this costly material with one of her pins.
Rachelle was paying scant attention to Princesse Marguerite’s maid-of- honor, Madame Charlotte de Presney, who stood near the balustrade, peering below and commenting on an arrival in the courtyard.
“Le Duc de Guise just rode through the gate from Paris. Ah, what a worthy retinue rides with him,” Charlotte de Presney was saying in her indolent voice.
“I care naught except if the duc’s son is with him, ah my darling Henry de Guise,” Marguerite said. She snapped her fingers at one of the ladies to hand her a sweetened glass of lemon water.
“The duc brings a stranger, Princesse. How curious, I promise you. The stranger hides behind a mask.” Charlotte leaned against the balustrade.
Rachelle, interested, glanced toward Charlotte.
“Your joie de vivre will soon return, Princesse, for I see your monsieur Henry de Guise among his father’s entourage.”
Marguerite gave a shriek at the name of her lover and jumped down from the stool, spilling some of the lemon water.
Rachelle groaned. Did any splash onto the dress?
“And why did you not tell me at once?” Marguerite rushed toward the balustrade to see for herself. Rachelle, gritting her teeth, scrambled after Marguerite in desperation, trying to keep the half-pinned hem from dragging.
“You did not tell me Monsieur Henry is here? Perhaps you have designs upon the prince yourself, Charlotte?” Marguerite accused her in a warning voice.
“Monsieur Henry de Guise is loyal to you, Mademoiselle Princesse. I am sure of it . . . just as loyal as you are to him,” Charlotte said too quietly.
Rachelle held her breath. She watched the princesse’s dark eyes turn upon Charlotte, then flash with molten rage. She reached over, cuffed her, and grabbing her earlobe between her thumb and forefinger, she drew Charlotte toward her.
Rachelle winced along with Charlotte.
Marguerite glared as she pinched Charlotte’s earlobe. “Careful, little fox, or I will have you beaten.”
An uneasy hush descended over the ladies.
Charlotte, stoic as always, gave a submissive curtsy to the princesse. She then turned her attention once again to the courtyard.
Rachelle, having made certain that the silk was neither stained with lemon water nor the hem stepped upon, stood with Marguerite’s ladies at the balustrade. Her gaze sought the masked rider, but neither he nor le Duc de Guise was in sight.
“Ah, but how galant is Monsieur Henry,” Marguerite crooned. “Look how tall he is. And that golden beard, look how it curls just so and shines with just enough auburn to make him look angelic.”
Rachelle pressed her lips together to keep from laughing. Angelic! That varlet?
“See how Monsieur Henry looks up toward your chambers?” Louise de Fontaine told Marguerite.
She is trying to please the princesse.
Marguerite, clasping her bejeweled white hands together in exaggerated happiness to make her ladies laugh, sighed deeply and dropped a flower over the rail. Henry doffed his hat, and a page ran to retrieve the flower and take it to him. He lifted it to his nose and held it high toward Marguerite. Rachelle wondered what the Queen Mother would do if she saw this forbidden display?
“Look, ladies — Marquis Fabien de Vendôme. But how beau he is appearing this day,” Louise said.
“He is always so,” another replied.
Rachelle’s heart tripped for the first time at the mention of Marquis de Vendôme. Her gaze sought him across the way where he stood on the opposite balustrade, but he was not looking in their direction.
It was true, Fabien de Vendôme was by far the handsomest man at court, exceeding Henry de Guise. The marquis had captured Rachelle’s interest from the first moment she saw him. Yes, his savoir faire had been, and was, impeccable. But then, after the death of his father, he had been raised for some years at court with the present King Francis II and Mary of Scotland.
Marquis de Vendôme appeared oblivious to the ladies watching him, including Princesse Marguerite, and instead stared below into the courtyard.
Rachelle took in Fabien’s virile build, housed in velvet and rubies, the handsome features, and fair hair. It was no marvel to her that most every woman at court was aware of him. Someone of high title such as he would surely marry a future duchesse. Perhaps a princesse? Rachelle was related to a dowager duchesse, but she was not in line to inherit. The title would rightly go to a blooded niece.
“Athenais has already conquered the marquis’s heart,” Louise said with an exaggerated sigh.
Athenais? Rachelle wondered. She had heard her name before, but not her family name, nor the region of France from whence she came.
Charlotte de Presney clicked her fan open and swished it rapidly. Rachelle glanced at her and saw that her painted mouth was tight. “If Athenais is spreading such lies as you have just spoken, Louise, then she deserves Marquis de Vendôme’s scorn, and so do you for repeating such rubbish,” Charlotte said. “I did not see Monsieur Fabien paying Athenais any undue attention last night at the play, I assure you.”
The play! Rachelle recalled this with renewed disappointment. She had thought Marquis Fabien would attend, and she had been right, he had. When the invitation arrived for the Macquinets, Rachelle had suggested the three don their silk gowns and go, but Grandmère had gently refused Rachelle’s plea.
“Such plays are oft immoral,” Grandmère had stated.
“But Grandmère, after all we have seen here at court of the escadron volant? I am no longer an enfant, I know of these vices.”
“It is one thing to know of them, ma petite, but quite another to laugh and be entertained by them. How can one find amusement in what offends the holiness of God? Surely you understand the difference?”
Rachelle had no experience with French plays by which to judge, but she had suffered more disappointment over the denial than had her sister Idelette, who had not protested. It was not that Rachelle had wished to see the play as much as she had wanted to make an appearance magnificently gowned in hopes of being noticed by the marquis. But she dare not admit such a thing.
Madame Clair, their maman, before sending them off with Grandmère to Paris, had warned them not to become enamored with the galantes of high title — “Because they must, and will, of necessity, marry titled mademoiselles. You will be pained by the outcome of folly, I promise you.”
Rachelle’s père had also warned of these matters when learning his two daughters would be journeying with Grandmère to court to work as grisettes. The “wisest” husbands were to be found in Reformational Geneva, not in Paris.
She and her sisters had grown up in a warm, loving Huguenot home where Arnaut Macquinet made yearly visits to John Calvin’s Reformational Geneva. On his return home to Lyon, Arnaut always brought two or three scholars from the theological academy to the chateau with him. For a few days there would be nightly discussions on the politics of France, followed by Bible studies and discussions of important Christian doctrines. Other Huguenots came quietly to the Dushane- Macquinet Chateau de Silk from as far away as Moulins to learn. After a tearful adieu, Arnaut traveled with the scholars to other areas of France, especially Languedoc and La Rochelle, Huguenot strongholds. There, these same Geneva scholars taught and encouraged Huguenots in their house-churches.
Rachelle knew too well the consequences if ever it became known that her family was aiding the propagation of “the religion,” as it was often called.
Rachelle wondered about Charlotte’s curt remark concerning Athenais. Her obvious jealousy told Rachelle she was casting eyes toward the marquis. It was troubling that Charlotte was one of the most belle-looking women at court, with her golden hair and blue eyes. She was a member of the infamous escadron volant, a clique of some forty compromising belle dames, married and unmarried, who served the Queen Mother’s political intrigues with all manner of vice, sparing no scruple.
Rachelle had struggled to like Charlotte from the moment they first met in Paris, and now, months later, she was losing the battle.
“Never mind the marquis,” Louise de Fontaine said. “What of the masked stranger? Did you see him?”
“He is gone now,” Charlotte said.
“I can see for myself he is gone, but I was asking if you might know him.”
“How should I?” With shimmering skirts, Charlotte brushed past Louise, pride in every gilded step.
Rachelle wondered at this odd exchange. Was Louise questioning Charlotte for some reason? Why? Could Charlotte know the identity of the rider wearing the mask after all?
“Do you suppose, ladies,” Louise said sweetly, “that the masked rider is but one more bel ami of Madame Charlotte? Perhaps to avoid her, he chose this desperate way to slip past her lest she capture him at once?” Several of the younger ladies snickered, but Rachelle suspected Louise’s original intent when she asked Charlotte if she knew the man had been more serious than the suggestion of amour. In all of this Charlotte showed no rise of emotion over her rival’s remark. She merely surveyed the less attractive Louise with a languid dip of her feather fan, as a sprinkling of sapphire chips reflected the sunlight.
“That you would recognize any possible bel ami, in or out of the palais, is a wonder to me, I assure you, Louise. You have been at court now for a year and have failed to attract the attention of even a page.” Louise de Fontaine turned a ruddy color which appeared to please Charlotte, whose lips formed a faint smile as she turned her attention back onto the courtyard.
Rachelle glanced in sympathy toward Louise. The daughter of Comte de Fontaine was a pleasant girl who had showed friendliness to Rachelle when first arriving to serve Princesse Marguerite. Rachelle disliked seeing needless embarrassment.
She wished to say that it was wiser to wait and attract one man of character than to collect a pack of drooling wolves, but Rachelle knew her position at court. Already Charlotte de Presney did not look upon her with favor. Any ill-chosen remark to defend Louise would turn Charlotte into an enemy. She was powerful at court and could do harm to Rachelle if she wished. Rachelle was relieved when Marguerite turned her attention from Henry de Guise to what was happening around her.
“Espèce de pestes!” Marguerite snapped her jeweled fingers at Charlotte and Louise. “Have I not worries enough that you must yowl like two discontented cats?”
Marguerite left the balustrade and stepped firmly back onto the stool, leaving Rachelle to claim her own position of kneeling before her, her knees on a pillow. She turned her gaze with deliberation back to the burgundy silk. Now that she had finished pinning the hem on the inner cloth of gold, she began gauging seven widths of Brugesse lace to be tacked three inches above the hemline.
“Have none of my ladies any affection for me?” Marguerite scolded in an injured voice. “I am most unhappy, and do any of you care? You make jest with one another and speak in excited words about plays and balls. Is there not one loyal amie among you who feels sympathy for my plight?”
Her ladies again assured her with soothing words that they were most sympathetic. Charlotte brought her a Viennese glass plate with dainty bonbons.
Marguerite touched her hand to her forehead. “To think my brother the king wishes me to marry that boorish Huguenot prince from Navarre. Non! I will not marry a heretic.”
Heretic. Rachelle stole a glance upward at Princesse Marguerite. Does she know I too am a Huguenot? The crown prince of Navarre was also of the Protestant belief. Marguerite and the Navarre prince were too young to marry, but marriage contracts among royalty were oft settled during childhood or even at birth! Rachelle could hardly imagine such a fate. Why, a princesse might become the bride of an old man in another country, or a man looking like King Henry VIII of England, who was known as a food glutton with a passion for easily tiring of his wives. Rachelle wondered what she would do if, like Marguerite’s sister Elisabeth, she had been sent to Spain to marry Philip II. King Philip, that unsmiling religious fanatic, called himself the Sword of the Lord so as to render the Inquisition against all who questioned the traditions of Rome.
Marguerite oft moaned she had heard discussion of her coming marriage to the future King of Navarre, which she considered an insignificant kingdom, and a Protestant one at that — located in the south of France near Spain.
“And I will not marry him,” she said again.
Marguerite, called Margo by her friends at court, was plumpish, attractive, and sensuous, though some called her licentious. Her hair was full and dark, her black eyes yielded to mischief, and she sought relationships with men as though motivated by an inner need to be valued. Though reckless, she had not inherited her mother’s propensity for cruelty or the occult. Marguerite was considered to be one of the most learned young women in France, but her lack of wisdom in moral decisions was pointing to a future downfall, and this concerned Rachelle.
Rachelle kept herself aloof during conversations that somehow seemed to always turn sensual. She did not know why, but these women at court seemed worse than the men in their discussions of bed chamber interests — but then, how would she know if they were as ribald as men?
She therefore found herself an outsider, a pilgrim in a strange and foreign city. Her two months here at court proved startling, many times, embarrassing. She had no desire to follow their wayward steps, but after sharing company with them she was also affectionately attached and sympathetic with their burdens, though often those burdens seemed shallow and devoid of eternal value.
Rachelle was especially sympathetic toward Princesse Marguerite. It was easy to see that she was frightened of her mother. When the Queen Mother sent her maid Madalenna to call Marguerite to her royal chambers, Marguerite visibly trembled. Louise had told Rachelle the Queen Mother beat Marguerite until she fainted. “Licentious harlot,” the Queen Mother was known to call her when she was angry. Rachelle could not imagine such abuse, having such a gracious maman of her own, but she believed these tales of Marguerite’s treatment to be true. On one occasion Rachelle had seen bruises on Marguerite. If Catherine discovered the affaire d’ amour Marguerite was now indulging in with Henry de Guise, Rachelle shuddered to think what would befall her.
Marguerite stood like a statue in the sunlight, the folds of burgundy silk and the cloth of gold catching the sun and gleaming. But with the breeze continually moving the cloth, Rachelle sighed and again ceased her work. She requested they work inside the chamber but Marguerite would have none of it.
“I feel imprisoned here at Chambord. Oh, that I were in the garden now with Monsieur Henry. Oh, I must be outdoors to breathe.”
Charlotte drifted back to the balustrade. “Marquis de Vendôme knows Monsieur Henry de Guise well.” She was looking toward his balcony again. “It may be, Princesse, that he can arrange a meeting for you both tonight in the garden. Then you shall be happy again. Shall I ask the marquis?”
Rachelle pricked up her ears. She glanced across the terrace at Charlotte. Scheming again, the minx.
Louise laughed coldly. “How unselfish of you, Charlotte, to risk the ire of the Queen Mother by arranging such a meeting. What will you tell her Majesty the next time you report to her?”
Princesse Marguerite shivered at the mention of her mother.
Charlotte ignored Louise. “Now there is a man for you, I assure you.”
She could only be speaking of Marquis Fabien.
Charlotte breezed on with calm confidence: “I shall have him for my own before the season is over.”
Princesse Marguerite laughed scornfully. “Do not imagine you will prevail. You will never have him. He is too shrewd for even you, Charlotte. Even I could not capture him. Now he is my ami.”
“It is Athenais who has his interest,” Louise said, “no matter what you say, Charlotte.”
Charlotte lounged seductively against the pillar on the balustrade, hands behind her. Her blue satin dress with Oriental pearls showed her curvaceous body. Her décolletage continued to get lower with each gown she wore. It would not trouble her to run about naked, Rachelle thought wrathfully.
“Athenais is a mere child, and she will not hold his interest. There are ways to end even that,” Charlotte said.
Rachelle blew away the strand of hair that tickled her cheek, and once again, would like to have jabbed a well-spoken word into Charlotte’s pride. Charlotte was older than the rest of Marguerite’s ladies. Perhaps she thought her experience would appeal to the marquis? Rachelle felt confident the belle dame would not suffer a wounded conscience for tempting a man. She did so deliberately. She’s had too much experience, she thought, then was ashamed of her own gaucherie. After all, except for court gossip, what did she truly know about Charlotte?
Princesse Marguerite looked down at Rachelle, who put her finger to her lips.
“Pricked yourself, m’amie? Do not get any blood on my hemline, or I shall give you two pricks.”
“Fear not, Princesse, I should sooner leap from the balustrade as to spoil this silk from my own home in Lyon. Only I know the labor my family went through to bring it here to you, an honor I assure you,” Rachelle hastened.
Marguerite laughed and reached over to playfully tug at a strand of Rachelle’s hair.
“And such wondrous silk,” Louise said with a renewed sigh, and the others agreed there was none like Macquinet silk.
“Mademoiselle-Princesse, you shall show yourself the most belle of all your ladies when you wear this gown, for there is none like it, I assure you.” Rachelle gave the princesse a tired smile, taking refuge for the moment in the praise of her work.
Marguerite stepped down from the stool. “Enough for today, Rachelle. I have grown restless. Come back in the morning.” She wandered across the terrace, allowing the breeze to lift the material like butterfly wings. “I am expected to wear this gown for the King of Portugal at the banquet in his honor when he comes to Chambord this summer, but I will not. I shall wear it only for Monsieur Henry, I swear it.”
Her ladies helped Marguerite remove the gown and fold it carefully for Rachelle to take with her to the Macquinet chambers where the final work would be done.
Marguerite now seemed interested in nothing more than sending a secret message to Monsieur Henry de Guise to meet her in the garden that evening.
“I will send my message through Fabien and — ” she turned and fixed her vibrant gaze on Rachelle — “and you, m’amie, will deliver my message to him.”
Rachelle’s heart thundered. At last . . . a reason to meet him —
Charlotte moved closer. “I shudder to think what Madame Henriette Dushane would say to her youngest granddaughter wandering about the corridors unchaperoned, Princesse. I shall see your message is securely delivered, as always, if it please la Princesse.”
“Oh, as you wish . . . come then, while I write it. Deliver it at once.”
“Of course, my lady.”
Charlotte walked past Rachelle without a glance in her direction and followed Marguerite into her chambers.
That notorious cat!
Louise caught her eye with a look of sympathy, and Rachelle felt herself flush. She did not wish for even a friend to realize her disappointment. Louise walked closer as Rachelle gathered her sewing goods and placed them inside her case.
“Madame de Presney is jealous of you. Be careful of her,” Louise said, then joined the other ladies to prepare for Princesse’s déjeuner. Rachelle snatched up her case and left the terrace calling adieu to the ladies.
“Adieu, Rachelle,” they called in return.
Out in the corridor, Rachelle hesitated, tempted to wait until Charlotte came out and burn her ears with what she thought of her. Non! She would not give Charlotte the satisfaction to see her flushed of face and in an irritated mood.
Rachelle lifted her chin with practiced elegance and walked down the corridor with her skirts swishing, her eyes straight ahead, pretending not to notice the approving glances thrown her way by guards strolling the gilded halls.