A/N I was bored today, so I set my boredom to a purpose and wrote more. I got a whole chapter done!
Grand R quickly fell into a routine. Get up two hours after everyone else has left, eat, dishes, try to pick the lock on the alcohol cabinet, eat, walk outside, and play solitaire until the others returned from whatever it was they did all day. They would talk and drink until one by one they drifted off to bed. Grand R slept on the sofa, so he was usually awake until everyone else had gone upstairs.
In the time he'd been here, he learned many things about the men who lived in this house. Feuilly painted fans for a living, and Prouvaire wrote poetry. Bossuet had worse luck than anyone Grand R had ever met. Bahorel picked stupid fights but was calm about important things. Combeferre knew everything, or so it seemed, and appearing to be sick didn't stop Joly from enjoying himself. Courfeyrac loved talking about his many romantic adventures, which changed every time he told each story.
It was a comfortable existence, he supposed as he lay down a card. The men who lived here called themselves Les Amis, but Grand R wasn't sure yet if he was one of them, a friend. He was probably inconveniencing them, eating their food and sleeping in their house, drinking their wine into the early hours of the morning.
He could tell they were curious about him. He strictly avoided talking about the palace, or anything remotely serious, for that matter. He kept to his drunk nothings, building a precarious wall between his past and now.
A high soprano voice broke a silence he hadn't noticed. A high, haunting song wove through the air, cascading into melodious lower notes.
Needless to say, Grand R was a bit confused by this obviously female voice. He leaned out the window, craning his neck to find the source of the voice.
An impossibly slim woman rode a perfectly white horse, her shimmering auburn hair in a braid down her back. Her eyes were closed, her pale skin flawless and glowing. When her eyes opened, they revealed startlingly crystalline emerald eyes. Or were they aqua blue? No, they were a clear jade green.
Something about the innate perfection of this woman threw Grand R off. In fact, he couldn't help but be highly suspicious of a striking young lady riding a horse in the middle of the woods.
The woman broke off her song when he saw Grand R. “Good afternoon,” she called, her voice delicate. “Pray tell where I am?”
“Um,” Grand R said. “Hi.”
“Do you have room for me tonight?” The girl asked. She tossed her head flirtatiously, her braid falling over her shoulder. She dismounted her horse and tied him to a tree with fluid movements.
All of this was sickeningly sweet. What. The. Hell.
“Um,” Grand R said again. “I, um, don't know. It's not my house, you see.”
The girl laughed, the sound tinkling and bright. “That's all right. I will wait until the owner returns.” She made as if to open the door.
“I'm sorry, but, um, I'd really rather you stayed outside. I don't have permission to let people in, uninvited.” This was exceedingly awkward. He didn't want to let her in, but she could be innocent of anything, and sending her away into the woods as night fell would just be cruel.
She pouted. “Please? I assure you, I'm very well-behaved.”
“Thanks, but no thanks. I would prefer you to remain outside. That is, until the owners return.”
The girl smiled sadly. “No rest for the weary, I suppose. My name is Giselle.”
“R.” He politely kissed her hand, which she offered through the window.
They remained, awkwardly silent, for a few minutes. Grand R glanced at her every few seconds uncomfortably.
“I'm sorry, they usually don't take this long,” he said of his friends, more to break the deafening quiet than anything else.
The girl leapt on his words. “I don't mind, it's nice to be able to rest, even for a short while. I'm glad you're keeping me company.”
But I don't trust you, Grand R thought.
She continued speaking. “It has been such a long journey, and I've been so weary, I woke so early, you see, and I haven't eaten since this morning.”
Grand R quickly stood from his place at the windowsill. He opened a cupboard and pulled out a loaf of bread. “Would you like some?” He offered a piece to her. It can't hurt.
She shook her head. “No, no, you have been too kind already.”
Grand R held it out a bit more forcefully. “No, I really insist.”
She took it with a smile. “Thank you, so much.”
Again they sat in silence. When she finished, she thanked him again. “I cannot repay you for your kindness. Allow me to make an attempt?”
Before Grand R could respond or refuse, she drew a silk handkerchief out of her pocket.
“I pray that you accept this gift as thanks.”
Grand R took the kerchief reluctantly. “Um, thank you?” It came out sounding more like a question.
“It's scented, you see,” she said.
Grand R gingerly sniffed the silk square. It didn't smell like much of anything. “I'm sorry,” he said, drawing the handkerchief away from his nose, “but -”
Her hand forced the cloth against his nose. He tried to push it away, but suddenly he could smell it – an overpowering scent that made his head feel fuzzy. His vision blurred, but as the kerchief fluttered to the floor, he saw the face of the girl change into the face of his stepmother.
She smiled a slightly insane smile. “Funny, the things a potion can do.”
Grand R swayed, trying to clear his head. The Queen laughed, the sound nothing like the high giggle of the girl she had pretended to be.
The image of her retreating back was the last thing he saw as he blacked out.
He awoke coughing and spluttering, hardly able to see, as some vile liquid was forced down his throat.
“Hold him still,” a familiar voice ordered.
A few pairs of hands held him down as he swung wildly. More of the disgusting liquid dribbled into his mouth. The instant he swallowed it, his vision cleared up.
“What the hell happened?” he demanded, struggling to sit up straight.
“You tell me!” Courfeyrac shouted, his face red. “We came home to your lifeless body on the kitchen floor! We thought you were dead!”
“Well, I'm sorry. When your stepmother shows up and tries to kill you, it's hard to worry about how your friends will feel.”
“Wait. Your stepmother tried to kill you? As in, the Queen?” Combeferre asked.
“Yes. She was, I don't know, disguised as some pretty maiden. It was exceedingly awkward. And then of course I played the gentleman, and she tried to kill me and turned back to herself. I don't know how she did it,” he said, interrupting Joly's question. “She has other magic things in the castle, a mirror that speaks.”
Bossuet frowned. “Why didn't you tell us she would try to kill you?”
“I didn't think she would! She sent an assassin after me, and I thought that was the end of it.”
“An assassin?” Prouvaire asked.
“Some vain pretty-boy murderer. I paid him off so he wouldn't slit my throat, I thought she would think I was dead after that.”
“Clearly not,” Feuilly said dryly.
Bahorel frowned at Grand R. “Why did she try to kill you?”
Grand R turned his head. “I don't want to tell you.”
“It's important, all right?” Courfeyrac said angrily. “Your stepmother almost killed you. The Queen tried to murder someone, and unless you're a criminal, that someone was innocent. The people she rules have a right to know.”
“No, they don't, because it's my life and my life is none of their business,” Grand R said stubborny. “And you'll think less of me if I tell you.”
“We'll think less of you if you hide your past from us,” Combeferre said coolly. “Not telling us is selfish.”
Grand R sighed. “Are you going to pester me about it forever if I don't?”
“Yes,” they replied in unison.
Grand R shook his head. “Fine.” He sat down in the living room. “When I was eight, I overheard her talking to her mirror.”
Bahorel snorted. Grand R stood up. “I don't want to tell you this,” he said. They were just going to think it was stupid.
Combeferre and Prouvaire grabbed his arms and sat him down again. “Please, R, continue,” Prouvaire said.
“Ignore Bahorel,” Combeferre added.
Grand R took a deep breath. It's okay, he tried to reassure himself. They won't judge you.
“On my eighth birthday, I overheard my stepmother talking to her mirror. The mirror was enchanted, I think, because there was a man's face inside it, and he spoke to her. He told her...” Grand R thought back. “He told her she was ugly, but she didn't believe him. He finally said that even I was fairer than she was. I know I'm not attractive by any means, but she's much worse than I am.
“She was furious. She broke into my chambers and beat me. She broke my nose,” he added, touching the crooked bone. “She beat me nearly every day until I was sixteen. That's when I started drinking. I tried fighting her back while drunk, and people asked her why she had a black eye for days afterward. She didn't want people to find out what she'd done, so she stopped beating me.
“On my half-sister's sixteenth birthday, I didn't drink. And my stepmother came and beat me again. I just... I couldn't take it anymore.” A lump formed in his throat. Tears blurred his sight. “I ran away, like a coward. She sent an assassin after me, and I couldn't even fight him. I paid him off. I thought I was safe with you, but I'm not safe, I'll never be safe as long as I'm living.”
He fell silent, not letting a single tear fall. The men he had come to think of as friends stared at him, clearly unsure of what to do.
Then Prouvaire stood up and crossed from the sofa to Grand R in his armchair. He leaned down and hugged him gently. “It's all right, R, it's okay, do you hear me?”
Combeferre nodded. “She was cruel to you. None of that was your fault. She could have killed you if you had confronted her. Running away placed you out of direct danger, however temporarily.”
Courfeyrac fidgeted. “She's an ogress, that's what she is. A filthy, disgusting monster who enjoys beating children. I pity everyone who crosses her path.”
“She deserves to be taken down a peg or twenty,” Bahorel added.
“I promise you that we will do everything we can to keep her from harming you.” Feuilly's voice was colder than death, and Grand R looked up in surprise. Feuilly's eyes were filled with rage, his hands quivering in fists.
Joly clasped Grand R's hand. “Are you feeling all right?” he asked kindly.
Grand R shook his head. “I don't know. I guess... I thought that you would all think I was, I don't know, weak, or something.”
Bossuet clapped him on the shoulder. “Combeferre, I think he needs a drink.”
Grand R nodded, too exhausted to say anything more.
All the world's a party, and I'm usually the awkward wallflower in the corner with a glass of water and a copy of Les Mis.