The King of France has had many birthdays, although he does not remember them all. (He’s had seven so far and he remembers three of them, and today is his eighth.) His birthdays are usually very impressive, with many presents and many people. (That’s what he has been told. He knows the last three were like that.)
This year, the King does not wish for a big celebration. Mother asks him why, tells him the courtiers will be disappointed, and ultimately agrees that the King can do as he wishes. (Mama is actually smiling when she tells him that, so she’s not saying that just to make him happy. Many adults tell him things just to make him happy and it displeases the King of France.)
This year, the King wishes to spend his birthday doing nothing – nothing, Mama, no lessons and no tutors, and no spending hours putting on clothes that itch – and playing in the gardens with his friends. He has many friends now that Aramis is Minister. He’s the best adult Louis knows, and he knows all sort of really amazing secret spots in the palace where they can play at hide and seek, and when Louis asked if they could be friends Aramis hugged him.
(Louis doesn’t know if that used to be allowed, but since he is now the King he says Aramis can hug him all he wants. Louis would only forbid it if Mama said no, because Mama is a very sensible person who only wants the best for the King, but Mama hugs Aramis too so that’s alright.)
Minister Aramis says that having a private birthday party is a great idea, and that Louis shouldn’t feel bad for the courtiers because all they ever do is eat and party anyway, and Louis’ birthday is about him, not about them. (He doesn’t call Louis “your Majesty” today, but it’s because Louis asked him not to, and because they’re alone.)
Mother gives Aramis’ arm a swat and tells him not to ‘speak ill’ of the courtiers, and Aramis says that he wouldn’t if they weren’t so annoying. The King doesn’t like his mother and his First Minister fighting, and he tells them as much. Mother laughs and hugs him, and says that they were not fighting, they were bickering.
“It’s something you do with your friends,” she explains.
The King is satisfied by the explanation. (After all, Mama has very good taste in friends if she likes to bicker with Aramis. And Aramis bickers with his other friends all the time too, and he’s told Louis that he loves them very much, which must mean that he loves Mama very much as well. And if he loves Mama, he must love Louis, because Mama wouldn’t let herself be loved by someone who doesn’t love Louis. Aramis loving Louis is a very good thing, so Louis will make sure he’s always around to bicker with Mama.)
Aramis’ friends are coming to the birthday too. They are also the Queen’s friends, as they’ve told the King many times. When he asked Aramis if he could be friends with them too Aramis hugged him again, which must mean that he can.
Louis doesn’t have many friends his age, but he doesn’t think that matters very much. (Aramis is his best friend in all of the world, and he’s the greatest, and him being very very old just means that Louis has someone to look up to, as Mama says, which is a good thing. Louis wants to grow up to be just like Aramis, and he wouldn’t be able to know that if Aramis were his age.)
The King’s friends arrive in the morning – Louis asked, because he doesn’t see them often enough and he really likes having them around, and he’d order them to come more often if he didn’t know that it doesn’t count if you are ordering your friends to spend time with you.
Athos and Sylvie always arrive first, even though their son is the youngest of Louis’ friends and needs lots of time and attention. Thomas is not two years old yet, and he can walk a little but he doesn’t really speak, and he really likes Louis a lot. It pleases the King to have people like him, and not his crown, so Louis really likes Thomas too. When Sylvie arrives carrying Thomas, Louis runs to them and holds up his arms and he gets to carry Tom if he is really careful and puts him down after a few seconds.
(Louis wouldn’t get to hold Thomas if there were courtiers around, because he is the King and he must be proper around his subjects for the good of France. He thinks Aramis might be right to speak ill of the courtiers, because Louis loves Tom, and he hopes Tom will look up to him when he is a little older. And then when Aramis doesn’t want to be First Minister anymore, because that’s a very tiring job, maybe Tom will get to be Minister instead.)
Not twenty minutes after Athos and Sylvie, it’s Captain d’Artagnan and his wife Constance who arrive. (Constance is Mama’s best friend, and Louis has known her for a very very long time, and she is very pretty and very kind. Louis likes Constance very much. When he grows up, he hopes his wife is just as pretty.) Constance and d’Artagnan don’t have children yet, but Constance is pregnant and that makes her even prettier. She laughs even more often now.
The King privately thinks that his courtiers look very ugly with their powdered cheeks and their rose lips and their lace and ribbons and wigs. None of the King’s actual friends wear wigs or make-up and they all look much better.
Apparently Constance and d’Artagnan didn’t want to have children before last year, but then Minister Aramis started talking to the King’s uncle, King Philip of Spain, and apparently the war is ending now. The King does not know how you get a baby, but they must have asked for one to God, or something of that effect.
(Louis really likes babies. He should ask Mama to ask God for one.)
Constance says her baby is going to be a girl, and Louis doesn’t mind because he already has Tom and Marie-Cessette should have at least one friend who isn’t a boy. That’s what Elodie and Sylvie say, and Constance agrees, and one time the three of them whispered to Louis that it’s because boys are idiots sometimes.
The King of France didn’t think he liked that description very much, but they explained that they were talking about grown-up boys, like Athos, Porthos, Aramis and d’Artagnan. Apparently, they used to be idiots. Louis still doesn’t believe it could true, but Elodie, Sylvie and Constance are never wrong about anything, so it remains a troubling mystery.
Elodie and Porthos arrive last, and Marie-Cessette runs to Louis and asks to be picked up, and he does because she’s just shy of three years old and that’s not old enough for it to be improper. (Louis made sure to ask, a few months ago.) Marie giggles and squeals, and Louis thinks it’s very cute.
Tom is always shy when Marie is around, because she’s loud and clumsy and she likes to play with his fluffy hair that curls like Sylvie’s and Porthos’, so Louis makes sure to keep an eye on them both. He is older, and he is the King of France, and it is his duty to care for his subjects, and even more so for his friends.
“I have gifts for you,” Louis tells Marie-Cessette, and he is very happy to see her eyes widen.
“Shouldn’t we be the ones giving you presents, your Majesty?” Sylvie teases.
He knows she didn’t like his Papa very much, and that she used to be very poor and very angry about a lot of things that the Crown did. But then she met him and his mother, and since they are both Athos and Aramis’ friends she has learned to like them a lot, and since Louis is the King of France now he is always very careful not to do anything that would make Sylvie sad or angry.
“I have presents all the time,” Louis explains, leading Marie and Tom away to his room.
“Louis,” Aramis asks later when they’re all sitting in the gardens, “are you happy with your birthday?”
“The King is satisfied,” Louis tells him very seriously, and they both giggle.
It is a bit like a joke, to talk about being King with Aramis. Minister Aramis is the one who does most of the work, along with the Queen Regent, and so ‘King’ doesn’t mean all that much for now. (Aramis is also the one who fences with Louis and lets him ride on an actual horse and not a pony, and he’s the one who is where Papa can’t be anymore, and he’s the one who taught Louis to whistle, so really, it doesn’t mean much to say that Louis is his King.)
Aramis lies down in the grass, wearing none of the complicated shimmering clothes that he has when he’s being the First Minister. His hair is uncombed as well, and it all makes him look very much like a Musketeer. If Louis didn’t have to be King, he thinks he might have wished to become a Musketeer himself.
He tells Aramis that, and it makes Aramis smile because that’s not the first time Louis tells him.
“It’s good that you know your responsibilities,” Aramis tells him. “You’re very wise, like your Mama.”
The King of France does not blush or preen when he gets paid compliments. He nods politely and smiles. But since it’s Aramis and they’re alone with their friends, Louis pounces on him too. At first it’s to get a hug, but then Aramis dares to tickle the King and the King has to tickle his Minister back, because he cannot let attempted coups go unpunished. Aramis is winning.
“Musketeers,” the King laughs breathlessly, “arrest that trai— ah!— that traitor.”
General du Vallon and Captain d’Artagnan are the bravest and best soldiers in all the kingdom, so they jump on Aramis and drag him to the nearest fountain and dump him there despite his vehement protests. The Queen giggles. (She’s never more beautiful than when she laughs, and Louis would appoint himself court jester if they still existed and if it meant watching her laugh forever.)
“Your Majesty,” Aramis complains to Mama, getting out of the fountain, “you add a wounded heart to my wounded pride.”
Porthos and d’Artagnan are laughing too, but then Aramis decides to jump on them and hug them too, and their clothes are now all damp as well. (Really, Louis decides, courtiers should not be a thing. It is terribly annoying that they should be needed to keep the country safe and prosperous. The world is much more fun without them.)
Louis goes to Sylvie, Elodie and Constance and lies down in the grass next to them, and he waves at Tom and Marie when they observe him curiously.
“Flowers,” Marie says decisively, and she takes some of the flowers Elodie was weaving into a crown and dumps them in Louis’ hair.
Tom tries to grab some, so she slips a daisy in his hair and he takes it out and plays with it, plucking the petals with great care. Thomas is very intelligent for such a young boy, Louis has been told, and it makes sense because Sylvie and Athos are both very smart.
The King of France closes his eyes and listens to the peacocks and the sparrows. The sun warms his face and he makes sure to say a small prayer of thanks to God, even if it is just in his head, because he knows he is very fortunate and very loved. (Louis should ask Mama and Aramis to have food distributed in Paris tomorrow, because they always tell him that very few people are as fortunate as he is, and that he should share what he can when he can. Louis can’t share the sun because God does that, and there’s no point in sharing the peacocks because they’re mean and not very useful or good to eat, but he can share his wealth. That has to be enough.)
“When do you think he’s going to ask?” Elodie whispers.
The King of France is curious, and that is a very good thing because apathy is bad for a nation, or so he has been taught. The King of France is also smart, and he keeps his eyes closed. (He remembers too late that it could be viewed as dishonesty, and decides that he’ll immediately confess that he was listening as soon as Elodie, Sylvie and Constance are done talking.)
“It’s still early,” Sylvie whispers back.
“Maybe he’s nervous,” Elodie wonders.
It makes Constance and Sylvie laughs, and Louis has no idea why because he does not follow their conversation. It is frustrating, but a King must know patience.
“I’ve rarely seen Aramis nervous about anything,” Constance is saying when a bumblebee flies too close to Louis’ ear.
He likes bumblebees, but not too close, and he sits up quickly before it has a chance to touch him.
“Your Majesty!” Elodie exclaims, “You were awake?”
“I was, Madame du Vallon,” he says with as much dignity he can muster.
He remembers that he was eavesdropping, and he pokes at a tuft of grass with his boot, looking down. Sylvie tuts and holds Tom with one arm so she can brush some dirt off Louis’ doublet.
“Why is Aramis nervous?” Louis asks, because there must be some awful reason, and as the King of France he should know about all important awful things.
(Maybe it’s just awful for Aramis, and in that case the King of France should know anyway, because Aramis is his First Minister. And Louis should know, because Aramis is his friend.)
“Aramis has something very important to ask you and your Mama,” Constance explains. “I think he might be a little nervous about the answer.”
And she leaves it at that, urging Louis to go play with Porthos and d’Artagnan. Louis does not understand why Aramis should ever feel nervous about asking him a question, when it’s usually the other way around. Maybe he does not wish to be First Minister anymore? But Tom is too young to replace him, and Porthos and d’Artagnan are too busy, and Athos says he does not wish to ever get into politics. Maybe he could ask Constance, but she has a garrison to run, and Sylvie and Elodie are always busy too.
The King of France does not wish for another First Minister. Maybe he could tell Aramis that if that is what Aramis has to ask. (Aramis always listens when Louis tells him he doesn’t want something, even if he doesn’t always agree to do what Louis prefers.)
Porthos and d’Artagnan spar with him, using practice swords instead of their musketeer ones, and it does not bother the King as much as it usually does. And then Athos comes to him and tells him Aramis wishes to speak to his King and Queen alone, and Louis follows eagerly.
Minister Aramis and the Queen regent are sitting under a tree. (They look very pretty together, like Athos and Sylvie, like d’Artagnan and Constance, and like Porthos and Elodie. Louis does not know why that is, but it he does not mind.)
“Louis,” Aramis murmurs, and he looks very scared.
That will not do. The King of France cannot have his First Minister scared of him. Louis climbs on the bench between his mother and his minister, and looks up to Aramis. His mother reaches out and takes his hand, and Aramis does the same.
“Louis,” his mother begins, smiling at him, “do you like our friends?”
That is a very strange question, as Louis invited them all to his birthday. He says as much. (It makes Mama chuckle, and Aramis smiles, and Louis’ feels like it might not be about anything awful after all.)
“Do you love our friends?” She presses.
The King of France nods, because he is eager to understand what this is all about. He cannot order the Queen Regent to get to the point faster, because she is the Queen, and his Mama, and she will scold him if he is rude.
“How would you feel about calling them family?” Aramis asks quietly. “In private, I mean.”
“That is your question?” Louis blurts out, because it is far too silly for such theatrics.
But then, because you have to be smart to be the King, it all falls into place, and his eyes widen. He looks at Mama’s hand, the one where there used to be a ring that is not there anymore, and he looks at Aramis’ own, where there never were any rings at all. He thinks and he considers and he remembers that Aramis calls Athos, Porthos and d’Artagnan his brothers, and that Constance is everybody’s sister, and that Tom and Marie are Aramis’ niece and nephew.
Gaping is quite improper for the King of France. Luckily, today the King is mostly Louis.
“You want to marry Mama!” He exclaims.
Aramis and Mama blink, like they are surprised he figured it out. It is almost insulting, but Louis is no toddler to be peeved by such minor things. He lets got of both their hands and slides down the bench, and he hops up and down.
“You want to marry Mama!” He repeats, pointing his finger between them. “And that would make your brothers my uncles, and Elodie, Sylvie and Constance would be my aunts, and Tom and Marie and the baby would be my cousins, but just in private because the nobility doesn’t like commoners and I am King of France and it’s important that the country stays united!”
“You don’t appear to disapprove,” Mama says with a tilt of her head, and her voice catches a little, which tells Louis this is not an awful thing at all, just a very very very important one.
Louis grins a big grin like Kings aren’t allowed to grin, and he nods enthusiastically, a complicated word that explains very well his simple state of mind.
“Louis,” Aramis says again, and Louis is disappointed that he would think there is still any need for words, “do you give me permission to marry your mother?”
The hug he gets from Mama and Aramis is the best birthday present he’s ever got.