This month’s Musketeer Media Monday post went up this week, with Musketeer in Pink (2009), a dip into Barbie’s complex work history. Remember that time Barbie was a Musketeer? She was great at it.
Over in the Robotech Rewatch, we just reached one of my favourite episodes – the one where Max tries to woo Miriya via video game pwnage and only manages to piss her off. Hell of a first date.
But on to this week’s installment – which brings the bling!
PREVIOUSLY IN MUSKETEER SPACE: It’s party time on Lunar Palais! Dana has successfully completed her interplanetary mission to bring back the diamond studs that the Prince Consort gave away to the Duchess of Buckingham. If only she hadn’t lost Athos, Porthos and Aramis along the way! Oh, and she met Milord De Winter on a train while pretending to be someone else. So that was awkward. Luckily she’s not important enough to come to his attention… yet.
NOW READ ON!
Chapter 24 – Hover-Chandeliers are Forever
Dana leaned back against the arm of an embroidered couch in the Prince Consort’s dressing room. She was not asleep – she could not imagine herself managing to lose consciousness yet – but she was nearly home and there was something slightly wonderful about that.
Conrad was the very opposite of relaxed. He was dressed up for the ball, in a beautifully cut but undecorated black suit much like the one that the Prince had insisted upon wearing. The simple shade and lines of the suit showed off the golden-brown glow of Conrad’s skin and the metallic scale pattern that traced a line down the side of his neck.
His shoulders were tense, and his long, tailor’s fingers drummed in an anxious pattern against the back of the couch. His blue hair was a shade too long now, and kept falling in his eyes, forcing him to brush it impatiently away every few minutes. As Dana watched him, she could see that his thoughts were entirely on Alek, and the scene playing out right now in the ballroom. It was ridiculously attractive, how devoted he was to his friend.
“Oh no, he can’t just go out there like a normal person, he has to make a performance of it…” he muttered, talking mostly to himself.
Adrenalin still burned through Dana – the long venturer journey back from Valour had not dampened the excitement of the mission, especially as she had spent most of her time fidgeting in her seat and recounting the adventure in her head, when not using Planchet’s clamshell to research any information she could find about Milord Vaniel De Winter. Not that she had been able to find out much except that he was Private Secretary of the Interior and had something to do with government intelligence.
Ha. Something political. Hilarious.
As Milord, he had been working with Rosnay Cho and that meant he was working for the Cardinal. As Winter, he had apparently taken up residence inside Buck’s tortured mind. But what did any of that actually mean?
Dana didn’t want to think about any of it. What she wanted was to lean over and lick a wet stripe up Conrad’s throat. If he could stop being irritated by the Prince’s antics for five seconds, she might actually do it.
Conrad pressed both hands over his eyes now as if he was actually in pain. “You got in this morning, he could have worn the damned coat and the damned studs in the first instance, now he’s just drawing attention to the whole mess, and…”
“Conrad,” Dana said in a low voice.
“It drives me up the wall, you can’t tell him, it’s like if subtlety was a gene his was removed at birth, maybe it’s some kind of subtlety disorder…”
“You don’t know what I put up with…”
Dana gave up on getting his attention. Instead, she crawled along the couch and straddled his lap. “Conrad.”
He opened his eyes, huffing out a startled breath. Then, very slowly, he began to smile. It was an exceptionally charming smile, and it made her feel warm all the way down. She didn’t think he was thinking about the Prince Consort any more. “Hello there.”
“Hi,” said Dana, shifting slightly in his lap.
“Have I mentioned how grateful I am that you saved my idiot boss’s hide?”
“I’m sure you were about to mention it.”
Conrad walked his fingers up the back of her bare neck, drawing their mouths closer together. His lower lip made a teasing swipe against her own, a preliminary touch that made her shiver. More. She wanted more. “I was definitely about to do that.”
The door to the dressing room slammed open, and Alek marched in. “Don’t mind me,” he snapped, heading for where the peacock coat hung, freshly pressed, against the wall.
Conrad drew back from Dana with an apologetic look, and she pushed herself off his lap so he could get on with his job. “Ready for Stage 2?”
“Stage 2,” Alek agreed, holding out his arms.
Conrad slid the peacock coat on the Prince. The cut was perfect, of course, swinging against his hips in a fierce statement of beauty. The lapels of the coat glittered with twelve perfect diamond studs. Even knowing that two of them had been made as substitutes very recently, Dana could not tell the difference between them.
“Still don’t know why you needed to bother with Stage 1,” Conrad said, coughing as he spoke so that the Prince could choose ignore the insubordinate tone.
“Yes you do,” Alek said calmly. “I had to see if my wife really was testing me on the Cardinal’s say-so. I wanted to give her a chance to show that she had chosen to trust me.” He sighed, and eyed at the effect of the peacock jacket in the mirror. It was, of course, spectacular, though Alek gave no sign of being pleased. “Not that I have any right to complain.”
“We all know that the Cardinal’s objections to you have nothing to do with what you do or don’t do in bed,” Conrad said, brushing the coat one last time for the sake of professional pride.
“Still,” said Alek, his face set hard. “I’ve been given another chance to make this right. I’m not going to let my own weakness get the better of me again. I knew the deal when I signed the contract. Time to start making the best of this bloody marriage.”
He turned to Dana on his way out, clasping her hand for a moment. “I can never thank you enough, Captain D’Artagnan.”
Dana blinked with shock at the title. “That’s not – that’s a long way off,” she said finally, embarrassed at the thought of it. “I’m not even a Musketeer.”
“Well, I’ll have to see if I can do something about that,” said the Prince Consort with a grin that made him look like a cheery teenager for a split second. “In the mean time, please accept this token of my appreciation.” He pressed something small and sharp into the curve of Dana’s palm and then swung away, striding back to where the Regent was waiting for him in the ballroom.
Dana looked down and saw a jewelled stud in her palm. It gave off a very expensive gleam of white, shot through with coloured veins that swallowed the light around it. “Oh,” she breathed.
Conrad came to see, his blue hair falling in his face again as he peered over her palm. “That’s an opal,” he said. “They’re very rare. Only found on Auster. I think the prince likes you.” He looked up, then, his dark eyes catching hers before he smiled. “Not as much as I like you.”
Dana arched an eyebrow at him. “So you admit I was the right person for the mission, despite my lack of credentials?”
Conrad laughed at that, dropping back on to the couch beside her. His hand trailed up and down her wrist, a casual touch that nevertheless made her pulse pick up speed. “You can’t blame me for being careful.”
“Careful is good.” Dana leaned back against the back of the couch. “I suffered a lot for this mission. I wore a dress. Me. An actual dress.” She had sensibly changed back into a plain flight suit as soon as she was back in Paris. The thought of swishing one of the Duchess of Buckingham’s gowns around here where people knew her was enough to make her howl with embarrassment.
“I’d like to have seen that,” Conrad said, his eyes lighting up.
“It was horrible. A crime against humanity.”
“I don’t believe a word of it.” His hand stroked all the way up her arm, until his fingers brushed against her collarbone. “Dana, I can’t – you know about palace contracts, right?”
She leaned into him, her own fingers combing through his spiky blue hair. If he was allowed to touch, then so was she. “Are we talking about morality clauses here?”
“No one cares about that stuff, not really, you know what palace types are like, all so sophisticated that it makes you want to smack them in the face. But I can’t afford to give anyone that kind of ammunition against me, not in the middle of all this. If I get myself exiled, Alek will have no one left in his corner.”
Dana nodded, her fingertips drifting lower to trace the muscular ridges of his shoulder blades. “Are you saying we can’t, or that we have to be very discreet?”
Conrad leaned into her, nuzzling her neck. His breath was warm against her skin. “Discretion. Not the other one. The other one is a terrible idea.”
“Where?” she whispered. She didn’t want to stop touching him, but he was right – the Prince’s dressing room was not the place for this.
“I need to be here, tonight. What are your plans for tomorrow?”
Dana sighed, and pulled away from him because her brain worked better when she wasn’t thinking about the warmth of his skin against hers. Tomorrow was so far away. “I have to report to Treville – telling her what I can, which isn’t much – and then check for any sign of communication from my friends, the ones I lost on the journey. If there’s no word from any of them or their engies, I’ll have to retrace the trip and see if I can find out what happened to them.”
“Will you still be in Paris tomorrow night?” Conrad moved back against the other side of the couch, putting distance between them. Dana wanted to pounce on him, but she could be a grown up about this. She could wait.
“It should take a day or so to get everything sorted before I’m off again,” she said slowly. “So yes. I’ll still be here.” One day. They could wait one day to be together. It wouldn’t kill her.
Conrad gave her a hopeful smile. “I have tomorrow evening free, and I know somewhere we can go. Will you meet me at the Fountain of Tranquility, at 19:00 hours?”
“Yes,” Dana breathed. She tried to make herself stand up and walk out of here with her dignity intact, but she couldn’t help herself. She moved forward, just a slight arch of her back, and Conrad met her in the middle of the couch.
They caught at each other, one hungry kiss turning into another, and another. Waiting felt a lot less possible right now. One of them was going to have to be strong enough to pull away.
As Conrad’s tongue grazed against her teeth, Dana was certain it wasn’t going to be her. She curled her hand into the fabric over his hip and hung on tight.
The Marquise de Wardes had embraced the peacock and diamonds theme more thoroughly than any other guest at the ball. Her thick, black corn-rowed hair was adorned with ribbons and silk peacock feathers, fanning out as if she was about to take flight. She was wrapped in a gown that sparkled pale and gleaming against her dark skin, giving the effect that it was actually made of diamond.
The hover-chandeliers, programmed as they were to capture the most visually interesting moments of the Regent’s ball, clustered so intensely around the Marquise that they almost caused a collision.
All the media representatives who had been allowed into the ball (a very exclusive list) were focused firmly on the Marquise as well, hovering near her as devotedly as the chandeliers.
Lalla-Louise Renard Royal watched the scene that unfolded – the Marquise’s glowing smile, and her self-depreciating laugh as the solar system’s attention focused so thoroughly upon her. The Regent knew in that moment that the Cardinal was right. This was the woman that they wanted as First Minister of Valour. Never mind that the Marquise’s politics were for a united Solar System – though that was a definite bonus. It was her flair for PR, networking and fashion drama that made her someone to watch.
Almost as fun as having Chevreuse around again. Lalla-Louise frowned at that thought. She had never been able to find a good replacement for Chevreuse. But of course she had to go. A Minister of PR who cared more about the Prince Consort than the Regent Royal was not someone to be trusted.
She resolved to invite the Marquise to extend her stay in Paris. They had much to discuss, and she wanted to make it clear to everyone that the other woman had her support and friendship. If that meant sabotaging the Duchess of Buckingham’s attempts to win the Valour election and Lalla-Louise’s bloody husband in one blow, then all the better.
“Your highness looks sad,” said a voice, and Lalla-Louise looked up into the calm eyes of Cardinal Richelieu. The one person who was always on her side. The Cardinal wore formal silks and a long star-scarf which entirely wrapped her hair. It was rare for her to dress so traditionally out of church – though in a nod to the theme of the ball, the scarf was purple and she had matched it with dark green gloves picked out in gold embroidery thread.
“Your eminence should not be so concerned about me,” the Regent replied with a formal nod of her head.
“How can I not be? The Solar System rests in your hands, my dear. Your wellbeing is vital to us all.” This was the Cardinal as foster-mother and devoted longtime friend, then, and not the sharp-tongued, ruthless political advisor. It was not always easy to tell the difference.
Lalla-Louise made an effort to smile. “I’m afraid this anniversary ball hasn’t gone quite as we hoped.”
The Cardinal arched one perfect eyebrow. “Has it not? I think it’s going splendidly. But perhaps we had different outcomes in mind.”
Lalla-Louise found herself getting angry at Alek all over again. What on earth was he thinking, strolling in wearing clothes that were barely formal enough for dinner? Was she losing his respect as well as his love?
Not that she had ever been able to count on a great deal of his love, but she had hoped they would become a powerful team working in sync with each other by now, a partnership that strengthened her ability to rule the Solar System. She should not be worrying about any secret alliances his family on Auster might or might not have been making with the New Aristocrats of Valour behind her back.
It all came back to Chevreuse. The Duchess of Buckingham going rogue was one thing, but if Buck had Chevreuse working with her… that woman was dangerous.
“You will forgive me, highness,” said the Cardinal. “But I have a token that I think you should accept. A sign of my own loyalty. As you know, I am always thinking about the Crown.”
“Yes,” said Lalla-Louise. “Of course you are.”
“I know that your highness has been wondering why I suggested this ball in the first place. I was startled – no, dismayed, when a concerning rumour reached me, and I set one of my agents to discover whether there was any basis of truth in it. I think you’ll find that the answers lie here.” And the Cardinal spread her gloved palm wide.
Two perfect cut diamond studs gleamed beneath the light of the chandelier.
Lalla-Louise stared. “Those are the studs that my husband should be wearing tonight.”
The Cardinal smiled sadly. “I hate to be the one to break it to your highness, but this is an important reminder that even those with whom we are most intimate can become compromised.” She tipped the diamonds into Lalla-Louise’s own hand.
“You’ll excuse me,” said a voice breaking into the sudden buzz that Lalla-Louise heard in her ears. “But I would very much like to dance with my wife.”
She was numb all over, and yet she felt Alek’s arms come around her. He drew her into the dancing with that same fluid grace they managed at no other time in their lives. Dancing. They had always been good at dancing.
At least three of the hover-chandeliers broke away from the splendid vision that was the Marquise de Wardes, and tracked the royal couple as they moved in perfect synchronicity across the ballroom floor.
“I’m sorry,” Alek said, and as Lalla-Louise leaned back in his arms she saw that he was wearing the coat, finally. The colour looked gorgeous over the plain black suit, and he had put some kind of gold glitter gel in his emerald-green hair that made him sparkle beneath the lights. “I was feeling rebellious, and took my anger out on you. It was unfair of me, and it won’t happen again.”
He took her breath away with his beauty. Lalla-Louise rarely craved physical touch, even that of her lovely husband, and yet she could look at him all day. “Angry, dove?” she said in a softer voice than she had intended. “What on earth made you angry?”
There was a different energy about him tonight. Alek was dancing with her like he played that wretched zero gravity game – as if there was a winner and a loser, and one of them was about to be struck by a pole. “I got the distinct impression that I was being tested,” he said with an edge to his voice. “I did not like it. I don’t think it was your idea – but that doesn’t make me feel better.”
Even as her wrist rested elegantly on the back of his neck, Lalla-Louise’s hand was still curled around the two diamond studs that the Cardinal had given her. She was not entirely sure what the point of them was. “I’m sorry, darling. I had quite convinced myself that you had involved yourself in – something political.”
Alek twisted his mouth in exaggerated distaste. “Have you met me? I leave the political to you, dear heart. I’m sports and entertainment.”
She laughed, and let him sweep her onwards with no further words. The dance could speak for them now. More hover-chandeliers clustered above them, now, capturing their warmth and happiness from every angle. Finally, the song ended and they came to a stop near the Cardinal. “Did you lose these?” Lalla-Louise asked, opening her hand and brushing the new diamonds against her husband’s chest.
He looked down, counting exaggeratedly. “All present and correct.” Sure enough, there were six diamond studs weighing down each of the long lapels of his beautifully tailored jacket.
Lalla-Louise was confused. “Your eminence, am I missing something? We should have twelve diamonds, and we appear to have fourteen.”
For a single flash of a moment, the Cardinal looked as if someone had poisoned her precious atrium garden, and burned down her favourite cathedral for good measure. Then a surprising warmth shone out of her eyes, and she smiled like the proud mother figure she had always been to Lalla-Louise. “A gift, your highness. A token of my esteem for the Prince Consort on the occasion of your anniversary. May you celebrate many more.”
Lalla-Louise did not believe a word of it, and she was certain Alek did not either, but they were all friends here. The hover-chandeliers were broadcasting every moment to the solar system at large, and smiles were called for all around.
“Surely it is not appropriate for me to outshine my beautiful wife,” said Alek, and promptly took the new diamonds out of Lalla-Louise’s hand, pressing them to the lapels of the jacket she had worn to match his. “We are quite out of balance, my love,” he added, and seized more diamonds from his own jacket, pressing them to hers, then pulling them off and rearranging them so that it was impossible to tell which were the new and which belonged to the original set.
Lalla-Louise laughed in a moment of pure enjoyment, and when the music struck up again, she let him lead her in another dance. The hover-chandeliers trailed above them, capturing every secret smile and casual touch between husband and wife.
You could not hold the Solar System together by dancing in public, but here and now on the brink of another terrible intergalactic war, it could not hurt.
It could not hurt at all.
You have been reading Musketeer Space, by Tansy Rayner Roberts. Tune in next week for another chapter! Please comment, share and link. Musketeer Space is free to read, but if you’d like to support the project for as little as $1 per month, please visit my Patreon page. Pledges can earn rewards such as ebooks, extra content, dedications and the naming of spaceships. Milestones already unlocked include the Musketeer Media Monday posts, the Robotech Rewatch posts, and a special Yuletide prequel story to be released in December. My next funding milestone ($300 a month) will unlock ART.