'Francis,I would be remiss if I said I was not surprised by the arrival of your letter. However, I was delighted by the content.I would be glad to be reinstated. I'm pleased you read my works as well - all of those ideas I hold, I mean every single one of them.Unfortunately, H. R. M. Louis XVI has seen fit to replace me with Charles Alexandre de Calonne. He would have to be . . . summarily removed if I am to return to the position with my full influence. What's more, carriage fare is not cheap. The one thing I am looking forward to the least should I be able to return is the actual move. Having to cart my belongings back to Versailles really will be an extensive labor. I will expect a contribution from you of at least 60%, if not more, to cover the expenses of my move. A negotiation may be made for less with decent enough bartering, but I expect some form of compensation for my efforts.As I mentioned before, I am extremely eager to return to Versailles and assist in France's stability in any way I can.Merci beaucoup,Jacques Necker
A banker, huh? He sounded more like a black market salesman after that letter. Still, though, France obliged, promising to contribute 70% to be absolutely sure Necker would return when France convinced Louis to call him.
France forgot about Calonne. Probably the one and only problem he never took into account. He didn't know the man well, either. Well, ok, France could improvise. He would first try out this Calonne character and see what he was like. If France disliked his ideas he could have him out quickly while Louis still ate out of France's hand.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
"Put the chest there, at the foot of the bed," he told the servants and baggage handlers he employed to help him with the massive wood box. France picked up his end with little effort while the four of them strained and groaned under the weight of the other.
"M . . . mon Dieu . . . What do you HAVE in here, Monsieur?" one of them asked, voice tight and clipped from the effort.
"Only the necessities, Monsieur," he replied back. They SLAMMED the chest down on the floor and France nodded his approval. "Merci beaucoup, Monsieurs."
"Do you need any help unpacking, sir?"
"Oh, non, non, non! Merci!" he said, waving them off.
As they left the last person out the door turned back and said, "It's good to have you back, Monsieur Bonnefoy."
France smiled and nodded his thanks, regretting the fact that he couldn't remember his name. Thinking back, he always made sure to show his thanks to the staff at Versailles - they did a selfless, thankless job, and basic human nature mixed with the very beginning of Enlightenment thinking demanded decency towards all people. Unfortunately, inherent decency wasn't a widely known virtue in feudalism. The respect you were due was dictated by birth. France wondered what all they put up with in his absence.
He inhaled deeply, changing gears, his heart happily recalling the verdant perfumes of Versailles. Flowers in every vase of every size, every smell, and every color. Irises, eucalyptus, echinacea, the crisp air from the massive gardens. They all mixed pleasantly with the shining springtime sun and pinkish tint of his old room and actually did much to raise his spirits. It wasn't home, not by a long shot. Paris didn't even feel like home after a while. But it was new and it was different, another clean slate. He felt refreshed.
He turned back to his bags but wasn't ready to take on unpacking yet. If France was being honest, on the carriage ride to the Palace, he planned out his entire day, and every possible encounter with Louis and every variation of it. If Louis met him outside at the door, France would be cordial and pleasant. If Louis said A or B, France would react with C or D. But he would stay amiable at Louis' efforts to get off his ass and greet him. If Louis came to his room after he got his belongings moved in he would be a little terse with him, but sure, he still made an effort.
Ok, Louis already missed option 1. He still had a chance to fulfill option 2.
So he couldn't relax, despite the tranquility of the moment. Couldn't sit still. He still felt ready to expect someone. Unpacking felt too immersive of a task. He waited and waited, pacing around his room, preparing dialogue.
"Where is he . . . where is he . . . He should've walked in by now! Ok! So he'll probably get here and act serious. He'll probably be too embarrassed to look me in the face so he'll clasp his hands behind his back and say, 'France.' . . . Maybe you don't now him as well as you used to. Not that you ever knew him."
Anyway, "Should I choose to get upset with him I'll say, "Louis," just as rude or non-committal as he is. And . . . "
With each taking second he became more and more insecure. He wasn't coming, was he? Why did he honestly expect Louis at all? Louis wasn't a decent person. He wouldn't do the decent thing.
30 minutes later his gentle pacing morphed into angry fuming. His stomach churned in fury. He planned out his whole day, but the one thing he didn't plan for was Louis totally neglecting to acknowledge his arrival.
He was not shocked, but he was upset. And it really hurt, more than he thought.
Something inside of him - he wouldn't call it hope anymore; more like defiance of emotional pain - had him recall the first time Louis walked through the doors as King. He kept France waiting then, too, but he came, right? There was still a chance.
"He'll be here. Just calm down, France. See to your unpacking!"
He forced himself to take a deep, loooong, calming breath. He shook out his shoulders and arms, cracked his fingers and neck. Moving to his bags, he unloaded his heavy and expensive petticoats, every color like a shock and explosion against his plain, bland, white bedsheets. He folded all of his matching breeches, rolled all his socks. He swore he would stay alert for Louis' potential arrival, but before long he became mentally invested, dutifully committing to keeping this drawers neat. By the time he folded his pants and hung his coats and placed his brush and all his personal effects on the vanity (they had replaced the mirror he broke before he left.), even brushed his hair, the rest of his day was one. Louis wasn't coming.
France flopped back against his again-empty bed, crestfallen and dismayed that Louis negated him completely. Old (in Louis' case lazy) habits die hard.
He checked the time piece. 6:30. It would be dinnertime soon. No, Louis wasn't coming.
And then, to his delight, three light raps struck his door. He froze, utter disbelief grabbing hold of his muscles for a moment. "He came! Oh, c'est très bien!" All anger forgotten, he jumped up and ran to the door. "Maybe I was wrong to doubt him so much! Sure, he's a little . . . whatever he is, but at least he's trying to care!"
He turned the handle, addressing him before he even had the door open. "Louis-"
It was a butler.
"O-oh. D . . . Désolé, Monsieur," he offered flatly.
"Quite alright, Monsieur," he said, bowing to France. "Dinner will be served at 7:00 tonight."
"I suppose Louis is calling me specifically, then?"
"Oui. I was told to tell you personally, not with a call card."
"Hm. D'accord. Merci beaucoup."
As he freshened up he seriously considered not going. Maybe stopping by the kitchens instead to sneak a bit of bread. Why did he owe Louis the respect when he wasn't offering France any? Every time he thought about skipping, though, his own guilt weighed down on his shoulders and made his chest ache. He still had an obligation, and a desire to see Louis, plus he would give Louis some dirt against him to use if he skipped.
Ok, so he couldn't skip. But he could be late, right? A small act of defiance without completely damaging his own end of the fresh start.
He simply took a ridiculously long time to get ready.
France first opted for a vibrant, pastel green with a faded baby blue trim. The sleeves of the coat folded widely back instead of the usual straight sleeve, with three huge buttons clasping it together in a crisp edge. The quiet blue color made his eyes seem brighter. "Unfortunately," when he found a blue vest to go under it he "suddenly realized" that the blues didn't match! Oh, calamity! Plus, he didn't really feel like green and blue anymore. He hung the vest and jacket back up and tried a dark purple, on the other side of the color spectrum. The whole coat was embroidered with swirls and patterns of different colors. Mauve, navy, green, yellow, red, and nearly every deviation from those. France decided to accent the navy blue rather than go with the matching embroidered vest. It looked too busy.
He changed into the purple pants, but oh darn! He should've put his stockings on first! France had to strip down again, and decided that, hey it had been a few months now, he should change his shirt.
So once he had a nice, clean shirt on he pulled on his navy socks and tightened the garters, then he again donned his purple pants. His shirt HAD to be tucked in PERFECTLY. No creases or bulges. France repeatedly buttoned and unbuttoned his breeches to tuck, untuck, re-tuck, relay, untuck, re-tuck his shirt. Ok! Perfect!
Next, the vest. Or . . . should he wear a waistcoat? They were a little longer . . . and would hide his shirt if it came untucked . . . he checked THOROUGHLY to make sure he didn't have one to match and when he was confident, he pulled on the navy vest and buttoned every single button. It didn't have colored trim, so he didn't have to worry about matching at all!
Now, what color cravat? Mmmm, what color? Ah, how WONDERFUL it felt to put so much effort into fashion! He missed looking beautiful. He missed pampering himself.
Hmmm, plain white wouldn't look quite right against all the dark colors. Well, maybe - if he wore the white one he had it would look crisp and fresh. But it still wouldn't tie all the colors together. A mauve or wine color would. Yeah! Good think he had a silk one in that color! Ok, tying it: did he want the collar of his shirt to fold over or stay up around his chin? He checked both and decided that no matter what, folded over looked generally more put together.
God, he was going to look beautiful!
Wrapping the cloth around his neck twice, he rolled one tail around the other, pulling it tight against his adam's apple. He spent some time playing with the lengths, making sure they both were perfectly even. When he was satisfied he tucked the knot up into the wrap. Oh. He guessed his collar was hidden anyway by the cravat.
Perfect with the navy! Now for the overcoat! He gently shrugged it on, analyzing the way the colors matched and meshed and drew the eye. Navy was a great choice! He looked like a masterpiece! He could kiss himself!
France checked the timepiece again. 7:14. Hah! As if he were ready to go! He still had to do his hair! The most important part of the outfit. Anybody in nice clothes could look dirty if his hair was a mess! He moved to the full-length mirror to the vanity, inspecting and fluffing his gold curls. Ugh. Imaging if he got LICE, he thought, face actually curling up in disgust. What do they do for people with lice? Don't they have to . . . sha . . . sha-sh-
Shave their heads? Oh, Mon Dieu! He didn't want to think about it! He shuddered violently, running his fingers affectionately through his hair until they tangled in a ratty knot. Oooh, non non non!
He started with the back, turning the brush upside down to brush out that knot on the underside. He had to pull, tug, and, admittedly, rip a little, but as soon as he got the knot out he brushed the whole rest of his head and then some, even finger-combing after to be 100% sure his hair was knot-less. Brushing the front back again, he lopped the purple ribbon around a few times, then tied it into a beautiful knot. Yeah. Stunning. He was beautiful. Just beautiful! He wished he could take an instant portrait of himself, right then and preserve it forever.
FINALLY he felt ready. He pulled on his black heeled shoes and checked the timepiece. 7:31. Ouch. Just the time he wanted. Enough to be HORRIBLY rude and defiant, but not enough for serious repercussions. His outfit bolstered his confidence. Plus, they'd be in public. He didn't have the energy to duel at ten paces with Louis in front of everyone else. He suspected Louis didn't have the energy either, supporting his case. Distantly he wondered if this was . . . residual anger or his own thoughts and actions. Frankly, he didn't care.
With each step he took towards the dining hall, though, as his feet shortened the distance, as he covered each meter to Louis, he couldn't keep his roiling stomach and fluttering heart contained. They choked away his excitement and waned his confidence. Deep down, despite his best efforts, he was actually nervous to see Louis again. No plan, no pretense. He wasn't ready.
"Hide it, France!" he hissed to himself.
Too late. He was at the doors.
He flipped his ponytail. He fluffed his cravat. He raised his chin. He timed it perfectly so he didn't have to break stride as the porters opened the door. Strode in expecting the first person he met eyes with to be Louis.
Disappointed again. Louis' head of the table faced away from the door. His back was to France. The eyes he met belonged to the courtiers. In one creepy motion every head swiveled towards him in perfect unison. Every side of the table glared at him with mixes of shock, disgust, indignance, they wore sneers, they chided, tongues clicked, eyes rolled, heads shook, with enough malice that chills ran down France's arms. He resisted the urge to shudder.
Not ready. Unprepared. Caught, for once in his life, with nothing to do, to say, no way to react. Afraid. The fragile wall he constructed crumbled on top of him under the fists of their spite. He submitted. He dropped his eyes to his shoes.
"Francis! How nice of you to join us, finally! I hope you don't mind, but we didn't wait for you," Louis said flatly without turning around.
"N-" His voice cracked. He cleared his throat. "Non, Votre Majesté, not at all."
"Come here. Let me look at you."
France crossed the floor to the corner of the table at Louis' side, eyes still to the floor. He dropped to a knee.
"How long has it been, four years? I see your sense of fashion is as impeccable as it was those four years ago."
"Merci," France uttered. The tension was ready to snap, France could feel it. It built in his chest, it clotted his nerves and filled his mind with pressure until it ached. Louis' hand snaked into the top of France's vision as he offered his hand to France. The non-verbal reminder to France of where his place really was, so the Nation took it softly and kissed the ring on his finger and dropped it.
"Look at me, Francis."
"Get ready," France warned himself. "He's going to be rude." Despite his huge, preparatory breath his shoulders tensed as his gaze traveled up the trim of his blue silk coat. He prepared himself for the same ferocity in his gaze that was in the courtiers' eyes. The resentment. The nuisance. He swore the whole table held is breath, waiting for the exact same thing.
But instead of hatred in the features, instead of negativity, France was pleasantly shocked to see amity. There was softness in the grayish blue eyes, relief. Absolute relief. He was surprised to even see that Louis was smiling a tiny bit. An awkward, tentative, questioning half-smile stretched across France's own face back at him, crystallin blue meeting for once, just meeting with soft blue, not fighting.
Louis casually signaled for him stop stand, and as he did Louis stood too. Everybody in the room rose up as well out of respect to Louis. "Francis Bonnefoy, it's wonderful to see you," he said sincerely. "I am delighted and relieved that you're back. More than I can say. This country needs help, her people need help, and I suspect you're just the man we need in such a desperate time." France opened his mouth for a cordial, stiff reply, but before he could answer Louis pulled France into a tight hug.
"U-uh, I'm glad to be back. It's wonderful to see you, too," he stammered. Louis pulled away and gently grasped France's forearms to shake, then gestured to the empty place at the table.
"S'il vous plaît, asseyez-vous."
"Merci, Mon Roi," he said happily.
"Majesté, you didn't tell us Monsieur Bonnefoy would be joining us," some courtier blurted out.
France's head snapped towards the man that said it. "Désolé, but I don't believe we've met," he spat harshly, "Who are you? Ah! On second thought," he snootily interrupted. "I don't care." So his sarcasm wasn't completely gone! He hadn't lost all of his bite. Good. He had hope yet he'd be able to defend himself. He may need the fire. "Ma Reine," he chirped pleasantly to her across the table, changing the subject. "You look wonderful! These four years have treated you well!" he flattered.
She politely nodded her thanks.
"Last I saw of you, Bonnefoy," the obnoxious man started again. "You were leaving Versailles in a coach bound for Paris!" "What are you doing back?" he asked haughtily.
The mood died, shot by his malice. Silverware stopped moving, and everyone stared anxiously at France, waiting for his reply.
"For your INFORMATION, Sa Majesté requested my presence here again. Why are you here?"
" . . . "
"Any thing else? Non? Bien!"
The staff came and served France, and he ate happily, pleased by Louis' amicability, appreciation, and pleasant conversation of what was happening in Paris. (He gave the censored version of course, for the dinner table). But still made it seem bad enough to garner Louis' stern, concentrated gaze. It seemed he was finally desperate enough to listen to France. Finally ready. He ate his fill for the first time in a while.
Louis was going to work with him.
Things were going to change.
Things were going to get better.
So he thought.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Le Château de Versailles
Returning to Versailles was THE oddest experience France ever had as a Nation.
Francis Bonnefoy, people's fiery advocate, crazed with furious passion, L'ami de la France, leader of the Parisian riots, practicer of violent freedom, indeed started to drift away while he stepped back into France's shoes - calm, confident, level-headed, connoisseur of diplomatic solutions. His emotional and psychological link to the people, the human that lied dormant in all the Nations, no longer took precedence. Gradually, the cries of the people started to die out. He found they were quiet enough that he could sleep again. Even his physical pain turned into a regular joint stiffness. It was Paris in reverse. Instead of energizing him to fight the pain he felt empty, abandoned without his people.
He still felt their emotions, but they no longer influenced him. They were just dully THERE, like a birthmark you never noticed til that moment: now impossible to ignore, but not bothersome. No passion, no energy. Just dead words.
He still got the odd flare here and there. Once, about the second week he was back he told Louis he was ready to disband Parliament now that the settled in, Louis actually hesitated. He paused mid-cleaning of his hunting rifle. Louis actually had the NERVE to sigh tiredly at HIM. France knew what was coming. The falter. The delay. France turned on his best glare he usually reserved for Angleterre, hopefully intimidating Louis out of it. The King looked up into France's face and winced at the ferocity but instead of holding his tongue and submitting he just didn't look at France as he said it.
"France, I don't know if-"
"Don't you DARE back out of this!" France spat at him.
"But I just don't know if-"
"Vous ne savez pas rien! Comment pensez-vous nous avons eu ici?!" he yelled in rapid French. "You told me yourself you don't trust them. You promised me you would do whatever I asked if I came back!"
"France, please understand that I need-"
France wasn't in the mood to hear about Louis' needs. Before he could help it a deluge of rage cascaded through the flood gates of his mind. He turned his back and cut Louis off.
Louis' winey voice set France's teeth on edge.
"I don't want to just SEND them away, yet! I'm second guessing the whole thing-"
France wanted to hurt Louis.
Just for a second, but it was enough. Suddenly the same sort of rage he felt while he was taking control of Paris shot into his spine. Red hot, like a fire poker, it jolted through his nerves and spread to his mind instantly, blocking out rationality for just a second, but it was enough. He snatched the wine bottle up off the near table and threw it as hard as he could at his idiot King. He was lucky enough to duck under the throw, so the bottle shattered against the wall behind him, red dripping down the wall like blood.
The sound of the glass was enough to shock France out of his anger. The violent, hot anger was instantly replaced with a cold chill that spread down, numbing his legs rather than his head. Louis looked up fearfully at him, arms still spread protectively over his face and France shook his head in cold regret. "D-désolé . . . désolé . . . Majesté," he breathed, backing away palms up in a gesture of retreat.
"What is wrong with you?!" Louis roared. "That wine was expensive!!"
"WHAT?!" France screamed to himself. He dropped his arms. He narrowed his eyes at Louis. He slumped in defeat. The wine was his first concern? All he could do was blink at Louis in disbelief. "Incroyable," he muttered under his breath, turning and striding from the room. Calonne happened to be walking IN and as France passed he hissed, "YOU talk to him!"
He knew he said he would leave. He remembered the feeling of each pen stroke as he transcribed his threat. NOT leaving was only giving Louis the idea that France would let him walk all over him and he would still stay. Why he didn't leave, France couldn't entirely say for sure. He wanted to after that, he so very wanted to, but something prevented him from leaving Something deep in his gut. He ventured to guess it was a Nation thing. Something unspoken in the core of a Nation. It tugged at and jerked his insides around every time he though about leaving. About stepping across the gates into the countryside. He got his time away, but now that he was here, he was supposed to do what was best for France as the Nation.
So basically, since he couldn't leave, and Louis was back to his old self, France just lazed around Versailles, a lot. Bringing Louis' promise into ever single utterance, challenging Louis' authority in the most passive-egressive ways he could after Louis' week long refusal to see him due to the wine incident. He was stagnant once again. He was lazy. HE was everything he hoped to avoid by coming back. He could do NOTHING while Parliament was there - even now Louis was still too-easily swayed by the last person he talked to. He was walking on eggshells.
He even begged Marie to talk to him at one point.
"Oh, France, you know I don't like the politics-" she said pettily in reply.
"I don't care!" he shouted loudly. She looked around in alarm.
"Listen to me," he whispered, gripping her wrist tightly. He looked around for anybody who would over hear but the servants' bustle wouldn't take them near the two. When his gaze settled back on hers he put as much intensity in his eyes as he could. He whispered harshly to her, "Listen to me! Do you WANT uprisings? Do you WANT the people to hate you more? Do you WANT your empire to crumble?! That's what'll happen if you don't convince him to listen to me! If you don't convince him to HELP. If things don't change soon the Parisians are going to revolt! They're arming themselves - with more than words. They raid, they steal, they scrape by. I've LIVED their pain! I've FELT their fear! My connection to them will always be deeper than Louis' ever will be, no matter what he or Parliament thinks! They attacked me. Their own NATION! They're that desperate! You do NOT understand them like I do" (Even HE didn't understand them; Notre Dame could attest to that. But details, details). "I know how to FIX France! And it's with them! Make Louis reconcile with them! Because you do NOT want revolts on your hands! I've BEEN on some." At that, she recoiled in surprise but he continued, "They'll be violent, they'll be bloody, and they'll target YOU!"
She was shocked, but he saw it in her eyes that she wasn't making the big connections. She wasn't comprehending the full weight of his words. She felt removed from it all, like it could never touch her. This was some juicy piece of gossip to her.
"If you think you're above all of this you're wrong. Tell him how serious this is. Tell him. Don't tell him I went on the riots - he'll only find reason to distrust me. And don't tell him the people attacked me, either. I don't mean enough to him for him to take it into account. But tell him everything else. I've already told him, but maybe hearing it from you . . . Just think. Think about the possibilities of an armed public."
As if in response his own chest tightened.
As the tension in Paris tightened.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Late November, 1786
L'orangerie, Les Jardins de Versailles
The Orangerie Gardens beat lazing around the palace. Any day. France tried to go out there at least once a day despite the weather. It was perfect for him. Mindless. And even when it was mindful, he didn't even realize he slipped into his thoughts until he "woke up", blinking hard from staring out of his irritated eyes and looking around in alarm from wandering off the path.
He weaved in and out of the spirals, hoping to feel like he were in a real maze, imagining the huge, dense, thorny hedges encircling him, isolating him from the world. When he hit a dead end, the center of a curl, he backtracked. Kept his eyes to the ground, soothed by the crunch of dirt under his shoes. When he explored every inch of path in one of the four sections he would circle the huge pond to another one, tracing the new, different patterns like a man possessed. Weaving, weaving in and out of the pattern.
Who was to say he wasn't possessed? Would a possessed person even know he was possessed? France pondered that. Because if they knew they were possessed, by the Devil or some evil spirit, then it boiled down to are they powerless to control it or not? They know, they see how it changed them. But things slip out, they feel their body moving but it is not them controlling it.
"That was me," France thought. "I watched the tinder of revolution spark. I let it sweep me up. I let it fill me, possess me . . . " He felt odd referring to himself in that weak, vulnerable position. He moved on as quickly as possible.
Ok, so he went on a few riots. So he locally upset the established order. Thinking back, it was the most liberated and alive he ever felt in his whole life despite being possessed. Possess by and obsessed with the lure and idea of fleeting power. He barely remembered any of the details, submitting to the demon. Watching himself, but a driven, ecstatic, rejuvenated version of himself do what he did. If he was being honest, he missed his possessed self. He missed the raw patriotism, the raw fortification of brother standing next to brother in the face of oppressive ideals . . . and temporarily winning. If he was being honest, totally honest, he was trying to recreate the blind, senseless feeling by walking the gardens.
The only problem with that was that Versailles, in all its color and flamboyance and activity, was grey. It was tainted with dullness, inaction, laziness, complacency. It coated France's heart, Versailles wrapped her soft ad fluffy arms around his waist and nuzzled her face tantalizingly into his neck and it held him there, fighting, kicking, screaming. Until he tired himself out. Until he let her hold him and cradle him. And then the grey bled into him. It sucked away all the color from France until he knew he could no longer feel the people he rioted with. Until he lost every ounce of the color he fought for.
So here he was, trying to pathetically recreate that pop, that mindless but vibrant and spirited, fiery and dynamic, vivid and rich, brilliant, striking color when he had already been contaminated, fouled, infected, poisoned by the grey of Versailles.
But, again, he didn't leave.
He looked up to sigh just in tim to see a shockingly white powdered wig hop lightly down the palace stairs. The glare made him squint, so he barely watched the man beneath it before he blurred, and France rubbed his eyes hard against the onset of the burning.
He hated when he overanalyzed himself. It took the optimism and child-like, pure emotion our of everything. Ah, well.
France checked to make sure the man turned the corner around the stone railing and was coming towards him, and there was no mistaking the purpose in those strides, even as he occasionally turned away from France to stare up into the sky and bask in the warm sun and pleasantly enjoy the weather. For a moment he entertained the notion that this man was a bother, an interruption to his peaceful (ok, fine, troubling) string of thought, but he immediately dismissed the thought. It wasn't so much the man was a bother, no, France just didn't want to talk to him. To anybody.
He stepped over the brown border of the pattern he was tracing to receive the man, and they met in the middle, off to one side of the fountain.
He lightly bowed and France returned the favor, scrutinizing every inch of his features. He was young but had an older, mature looking face, with wider-set eyes that tilted downward. They gave him a softer look of perpetual "awwww". He had an exceptionally wide nose but of even proportion, and a tight mouth that combatted his natural resting compassionate face. His green coat was silk with a matching waistcoat and white, lace cravat.
He had a brightness to his eyes, a glint of innovation. Wisdom, grit. He knew what he was talking about and he knew how to talk about it. France instantly held him in good favor.
"Monsieur France?" he asked hesitantly.
France blinked in surprise. "O-Oui, but-"
"Sa Majesté told me. He says I am to speak to you, show you my ideas, collaborate. He says were are to work together to try and restore France's financial situation, seeing as how you . . . " He gestured awkwardly to all of France and he nodded in understanding.
" . . . how I'm la Personification Nationale du Royaume de France."
"Oui. How . . . does that work, exactly?"
Oh, geez, he was skeptical. God, this would be awkward.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Le Château de Versailles, Louis' Chambers
France burst excitedly into Louis' room.
"The Assembly of Notables!" he yelled, looking around frantically for his King. Spotting him behind his desk with Calonne over his shoulder, he squeaked in excitement. He ran over and slapped his palms on the desk and pretended to cup the idea in his hands. He presented it to the two of them, holding it out. "The Assembly." He paused, holding up his pointer finger for dramatic effect. "Of. Notables!" he yelled again.
"France!" Louis scolded, picking up artifacts France's desk slap knocked over.
"The Assembly of Notables!!" he cried, rolling over Louis' reaction.
"Excellent! Louis cried. "What is it?"
"Oui!" Calonne said, "That's an excellent idea! France's bankruptcy is imminent, Sire. There's no denying that! Both Monsieur Bonnefoy and myself have told you that."
"What's the Assembly of Notables?" Louis asked.
"Your personal Parliaments are preventing national legislation. What if we work locally! Start in Paris, where it's the worst. Bypass the Parliaments THERE! We get magistrates, local officials, people from each estate to come-"
"Give testimonies on the financial state of their estates," Calonne offered.
"Hash out ideas!" By then they were talking to each other, more so than Louis.
"Collaborate on solutions-"
"And have Majesté sign off n it!" they finished together. They turned excitedly to Louis, staring expectantly at him, almost breathing heavily from their solution.
Louis' glance flicked uncertainly from France to Calonne, and his hands unconsciously crossed to play with the lace trailing from his sleeve.
France knew what that meant.
"What are you uncertain about? Let us help you," he said sweetly, pleadingly.
"I suppose . . . "
"Tax reform is necessary," Calonne said.
"I understand, I just don't know if . . . what if this fails?"
"So what?" France said brightly, forcefully. "At least we tried, number one, number two, Paris would be no worse off than it is now!"
"Here's my idea, and France agrees with me: the taxes are the key. Balance. A lesser tax exemption on the clergy and nobility, and proportional land taxes imposed would not completely solve the gap, but substantially level the field. Once that happens, the economy will naturally start to heal itself. Inflation will drop, pending a good harvest. Then, after that we can focus on the debt. With more balanced taxes we can apportion the crown's income appropriately. We're in debt 1.3 billion livres. But we should wait for that crown tax until the economy is fixed. Alright?"
"I said I understand! . . . Alright."
"Alright?" France asked. He instantly regret it. Asking someone file like Louis for absolute confirmation gave them another opportunity to change their mind. He silently cursed his tongue but hid it behind a happy and excited smile.
"Alright," he said with a huge sigh, like it was the hardest decision he ever had to make.
"Très bien! Génial! I'll draw up the document! I've got a solid idea about who should be on this council. Once the document's published I'll send out letters personally asking people to attend!" Calonne said with a triumphant glance to France.
"When you're finished send it down to me. I'll get it signed and deal with publishing!"