NOT A SOUL ALIVE could remember a day when the Le Palais de la Cite had been more abuzz with grandeur than the day of the opening ceremonies for the Maiden of Monaco festivities.
From tournaments of man versus beast to performances from faraway lands the events were as plentiful as the buffets that filled the stomachs of those in attendance.
Royal caravans from all eight of the guest nations, as well as France’s own aristocratic society mingled and hobnobbed while the rest of Paris celebrated in the streets and alleys and atop balconies and below canopies.
Tens of thousands had lined the route that brought in the Maiden of Monaco and her entourage, and when the Parisians caught sight of the princess as her royal carriage rode atop the shoulders of her men-at-arms their excitement grew, as did their hope that one of their own would win her hand.
The maiden rode this sea of excitement all the way to the gates of the palace, through its splendored entrance and to its main hall, where she was then greeted by members of France’s royal family and led to a pedestal where she was to await the introduction of her royal suitors.
Horns then began to ring out, serving as a cue for the first of the ten lords to be announced. They had each been sequestered to private quarters, their initial unveiling being made not only to the maiden but also to all those in attendance as well as their fellow competitors. This would be the moment when all would size them up.
When favorites would be chosen and wagers would be made. And to help with their first impressions, each would present the princess with a special gift from their homeland.
The first to be announced was not only the oldest in the competition but the largest. Built like a massive tree, the forty-year-old lord representing Germany towered over all he passed as he made his way to the foot of the maiden’s pedestal.
The bearded giant proudly introduced himself in his native tongue, with a translator interpreting for Her Highness, with the lord then bowing as he presented to her his battle axe, his foreign words being understood when the translator quoted him as saying, ‘With this axe I have defeated many armies in defense of the German throne. May it now symbolize the strength I would bring as a proper husband.’
Accepting his gift with a gentle nod of the head Princess Angelique was now ready for her next suitor, the horns prompting Germany to step aside for the introduction of Denmark, who approached bearing an exquisite piece of jewelry. The lords of Britain and Austria also presented fine jewelry, as did one of France’s two representatives, King Philip’s own nephew.
The next few lords were a bit more original, with Belgium giving the gift of a lace veil, Russia offering his national drink of Vodka, Italy bringing forth pasta and Spain with his high-quality olive oil.
For most in attendance this would be how they would refer to the lords. Not by their personal names, since the foreign sounds of such were easily forgettable, but rather the countries they were here representing.
The last of the lords stunned all as he entered the hall, for this royal Frenchman was not even a man but merely a boy of only fourteen years of age.
The crowd didn’t know what to make of it, and by the time Christophe reached the foot of the pedestal all but two in attendance broke out in laughter believing it to be a joke. But the lad was no stranger to ridicule, refusing to let it affect him as he presented his gift while the only two who showed any respect towards him were the maiden herself and the king of France. She did have a smile on her face, but it was made from intrigue, not belittlement.
As for the royal crown, he had had enough and made it be known that the boy was indeed the legitimate tenth and final lord in this competition by standing to his feet, raising his hand for silence and offering a slight bow of the head and gesture of the hand for the boy to continue.
Now, with more courtesy given to him than all the men who had come before him, Christophe addressed the Maiden of Monaco as he presented her with a leather bound book.
‘Your Highness, I present to you the timeless gift of story. Where experiences become wisdom, where love becomes eternal. With characters that can change us, with plots that can amaze us, I share with you, my beloved Angelique of Monaco, the precious gift of story.’
The world in general had yet to develop an appreciation for literary works, so it came of no surprise when the crowd breathed an unenthusiastic sigh and regarded the offering as the simplest of all the gifts that had been presented.
But to a mind that was more complex than simple, to a pair of eyes that gave a clue to such internal substance, such a gift might be treasured more than mere objects that one could grow bored of after awhile or items no longer of value once digested.
This is what Christophe had taken away from the image that had been memorized by his mind and imprinted upon his heart. The image he had stared at for countless hours throughout Paris. The hand drawn portrait of the flawless beauty, who up until last month had been unattainable to a mere peasant like himself. But through circumstance he never could have imagined he now had a one in ten chance of making that fantasy, that dream, a reality.
Sure the odds were stacked so high against him that he was more likely to foil a dozen more assassination attempts on the king’s life than actually triumph as victor over these nine royal lords, all of whom were not only the crème of the crop from their respected countries but also had more experienced, stronger and handsome bodies than the awkward adolescent one Christophe was stuck with.
But it was the special part within him that was responsible for him now being at the foot of the maiden’s pedestal. The part that had pushed him to stop William. The part that had given him the nerve to make the royal request to be made a lord in order to compete for the maiden’s hand. The part that dared to believe those beautiful eyes that were now staring back into his could see past his shortcomings and identify something special between the two that was meant to be.
Just as doubt was about to creep in, just as reason was about to snap Christophe back to reality the mighty horns blared back to life, followed by an announcement by King Philip.
‘There has been much speculation as to how this royal courting shall take place since details have been kept to a minimum, but such precautions were intentional so as to ensure the accurate process of elimination.
‘It was by no mistake that the arrival of the ten lords was scheduled five days in advance of these opening ceremonies, for unbeknownst to all is the fact that the competition has already begun.’
The crowd let out a collective question of bewilderment, but it was the lords in competition that were most puzzled.
‘By no coincidence was it that each of these ten royal suitors have found themselves on the doorstep of virtue by circumstance over the past few days,’ the king continued.
Thinking back on it, some of the men were becoming nervous, while others still had no idea what was going on and waited for the king to explain.
‘Virtue. A characteristic the Grimaldi family has always held dear. So it should be of no surprise that they would want such fine attributes in whoever shall take the hand of their beloved Angelique.’
King Philip’s attention turned towards the back of the room, causing all the onlookers to follow suit and take notice of four simpletons as they made their way to the throne.
One was a royal servant of the Palais, while the man to his right was nothing more than a penniless peasant. Beside them walked an old woman, blind and in rags, being led by a girl no more than ten years of age. They all stopped a few feet before the king of France and the Maiden of Monaco and turned to face the ten lords, half of which now stood in shame.
King Philip continued with his address. ‘Ladies and gentleman of the royal court, I present to you four members of the distinguished Grimaldi family of Monaco.’ The crowd stood in stunned silence, waiting for an explanation to this most astounding turn of events.
‘They, along with Princess Angelique’s own lady-in-waiting have spent the past five days giving opportunities to these ten royal suitors. Opportunities for each of these men to showcase their true admirable character, or the lack thereof.’
The maiden’s lady-in-waiting, a tall slender exotic beauty, was now by her side, making the scene even more uncomfortable for half the lords while the king went on. ‘May we now learn of these honorable virtues from the Grimaldi’s themselves.’
With portrayed appearances now being shed, one by one Angelique’s kin stepped forward.
‘I, Prince Andrew Grimaldi of Monaco, brother of Princess Angelique, hold true the virtue of humility, for whether it be a royal servant or a member of a royal family, under the eyes of God all men bleed, all men breathe, therefore all men should respect their fellow men. As royals we should appreciate, not depreciate, those who support us, those who serve us.
‘Humility is a virtue I hold true.’
‘I, Prince Dimitri Grimaldi of Monaco, eldest brother of Princess Angelique, hold true the virtue of honesty. If a penniless peasant who has passed along his only item of value to a royal in hopes of that item making its way to the king it was intended for, to serve as a token, as a pledge from the poor man that he would always support his king, than the royal should have the integrity to deliver the treasure, in this case a golden goblet, to his majesty and not keep it for himself.
‘Honesty is a virtue I hold true.’
‘I, Duchess Josephine of Monaco, great aunt of Princess Angelique, hold true the virtue of compassion. Can a privileged soul recognize one who is in need of such? Perhaps by displaying the simple gesture of providing a cloak to an old blind beggar who is freezing in the snow?
‘Compassion is a virtue I hold true.’
‘I, Sophia of Monaco, youngest cousin of Princess Angelique, hold true the virtue of bravery. If I were to ever find myself lost in a dirty alley surrounded by men who would have the ill will intention of robbing me of my innocence, would I be able to rely upon the bravery of a passing royal, whom despite being threatened by those who would do me harm, despite having no men-at-arms at their sides, would attempt to save me in my time of need?
‘Bravery is a virtue I hold true.’
The courageous child then stepped back to rejoin the line of her royal family members, at which time King Philip walked over to Princess Angelique’s lady-in-waiting and resumed his address.
‘And then there is the virtue of loyalty. To those who lead a kingdom this may be the most important of all. So what is a royal family to think when a number of suitors come together for the purpose of declaring their undying love and loyalty to the fair maiden only to fail miserably when such declarations are put to the test?
‘They say that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, but with beauty like this all that behold will find lust growing between their loins. So what is a man to do when nature rears its tantalizing head? Thus the weak are exposed, as are the strong.
‘As fate would have it, half of these ten lords have proven over the course of the past five days that they indeed possess the very virtues the Grimaldi family hold dearest, while the other half have displayed a nature that is not deemed suitable for the monarchy of Monaco.
‘Let it be known that by no means shall the following dismissals be taken as a desire to sever peaceful ties with said nations. On the contrary, Monaco see’s these nine countries who have gathered for these festivities as close friends. Trusted allies whom the royal family would not hesitate on going into battle alongside for the purposes of peace and freedom.
‘What has taken place here is an event of opportunity for those who have fallen short to re-examine themselves. To learn, to reset their souls, for only on one’s deathbed is it too late for a man to better himself.
‘Just the same, it has been an opportunity for those with pure of hearts to shine, and so we will spend the rest of this evening in celebration as we pay homage to these remaining lords. These men of virtue.’
By this time all in attendance had been supplied wine, and when the king rose his glass to toast each of the five prevailing countries hundreds more glasses filled the air.
The elimination had been tactful, with no one specifically being pointed out as to whom among England, Russia, Austria, Spain and France had failed in what tests. The five men were just left to do as they pleased, and for three it was to take the advice of the king of France. To live, to learn, and with that they joined in the celebration.
But for two it was too much to bear, for they had mistaken humility for humiliation, and in so doing the Brit and the Frenchman stormed out of the hall.
The king looked on, disappointed in the fact that his own nephew had brought somewhat of an embarrassment upon the throne, but pleased nonetheless that the boy whom he had only recently made a lord had proven that such a decision had been a wise one.
Christophe, on the other hand, was confused more now than ever. His actions in response to what appeared to be random situations were reactions he believed anyone in his position would have displayed. How could he not treat the royal servant with respect when the man had been so kind to him?
When out for his evening strolls around the snow-covered streets of Paris and bundled up by the king’s generosity, he couldn’t imagine ignoring that poor blind woman whose bare skin shivered as she approached. Nor did the thought ever cross his mind to keep the golden goblet for himself when that penniless peasant asked him to present their king with his family’s most treasured of possessions.
And as for that innocent child whom he had heard crying out for help… How could anyone with a heart not do anything they could to try and stop such a horror? It had made no difference to Christophe that running into that alley to assist that girl meant putting his own life at risk.
And lastly, when the most unexpected of all had occurred. When that beautiful woman he had never seen before quietly entered his room in the middle of the night. How she looked like a goddess who had descended from the stars that lay beyond the open window at her back. How she had stood at the foot of his bed, and when he sat up had let her night gown fall off her body and onto the floor.
How his own body had reacted by the sight of seeing a naked woman for the first time. And how she had went for the hardness between his legs.
No, he could never in a million years have guessed that by covering himself up and politely declining the beauty’s advances that he was actually passing a test. His will to fight the urge to accept her into his bed came from the love he felt for a woman he had yet to even see in person. He had already allowed his heart to fall for the Maiden of Monaco and therefore knew it to be wrong to give over his body to another.
Looking back on the past five days while standing amongst the royal celebration Christophe also knew that he had made it this far due to his unique upbringing. From the countless books, from his dozen fathers he had learned the virtues that the Grimaldi’s held true, and as a result was now beginning to understand the word Father Ramsey would so often use; Fate.
Chapter 4 will be posted shortly,
with Christophe getting his first taste
of what he’s fighting for.