"Rise and shine, Master."
Adam bit back a groan and willed himself to be very, very still. He had woken a few minutes earlier with an excruciating hangover, and he doubted that he would be capable of rising or shining any time in the near future. He couldn't remember what, exactly, he had been doing the night before, but it was clear that it had involved a good deal of wine. His mouth was dry, his head throbbed painfully, and he was certain that the slightest attempt at movement would cause him to be sick. But if he could fool Lumière into believing that he was not yet awake, then perhaps he could steal a few more hours in which to sleep off his maladies.
Unfortunately, Lumière knew him well enough to call his bluff. A moment later, Adam heard the curtains being pulled aside, and the backs of his eyelids were seared by bright autumn sunlight. This time, he didn't bother to stifle the groan as he turned over and buried his face in his pillow.
"Come now, is that any way to greet the day?" Lumière asked cheerfully.
Adam turned his head and struggled to focus his bleary eyes on the fuzzy, human-shaped form that was moving about his bedroom. Lumière was picking his discarded clothing up from the floor and throwing it into a single pile for the maids to collect. "What's this?" he asked, as his boot clinked dully against a hard object near the foot of the bed. He bent down, and when he stood back up, two empty wine bottles were clutched in his hand. He eyed Adam with concern. "Did you drink both of these last night?"
Adam propped himself up on his elbows, and a third empty bottle rolled off the side of the bed. It landed softly on the plush rug, and Adam watched it complete a few lazy spins before coming to a stop beneath a chair. He had the decency to look vaguely sheepish when he looked back up at Lumière.
"Oh, Master, how appalling," Lumière chided. "Couldn't you find a glass?" He laughed at Adam's disoriented expression, and then he shook his head drolly. "Come, let me help you get dressed. You don't want your lovely fiancée to see you looking like this."
The mention of the word "fiancée" brought the events of the previous night rushing back to Adam in a series of disjointed flashes: the dinner with said fiancée, Lady Elisabeth, and her family; the women retiring to the parlor after dinner to gossip, no doubt about the wedding that would take place at the end of the week; his father's orders to entertain Elisabeth's twelve-year-old brother, Denis, while his father, his future father-in-law, and his uncle, the king, discussed "important matters of state;" his bid to hustle the seemingly meek and naive boy over a game of cards and his subsequent forfeit of an entire month's allowance when Denis turned out to be far more cunning than he appeared; and his attempt to soothe his wounded pride with alcohol before stumbling into bed. Suddenly, Adam felt even less like getting out of bed, but he was already on his feet, leaning heavily on Lumière for support.
"Can't you just tell everyone that I'm still sleeping?" Adam begged as Lumière guided him to the dressing table. He flinched when he caught a look at himself in the mirror; he looked like hell. His long auburn hair was disheveled and limp, his complexion had a slightly greenish tinge to it, and his normally brilliant blue eyes were bloodshot and glassy. Prince Charming, he was not.
"I would, Master," Lumière said sympathetically. "But your father has given me orders to send you to his study."
Adam's face crumpled. What had he done this time? Had he offended Denis after their card game last night? He knew he was not one to take losing particularly graciously, even when sober. Make that especially when sober. "What does he want?" he finally asked Lumière.
Lumière shrugged. "He didn't say; he only asked me to wake you and send you straight to him."
"Well, I suppose my morning can't get any worse."
"Look on the bright side," Lumière suggested as he tugged Adam's messy hair back into a neat ponytail. "Once you've seen to your business with your father, you're free to enjoy a nice, relaxed morning with Elisabeth. Perhaps you could have some breakfast, or show her around the grounds?"
"Was that supposed to be the bright side?" Adam's eyes searched Lumière's in the mirror; Lumière appeared to be completely sincere.
Lumière tilted his head as he placed the brush on the table. "Elisabeth is a very pretty girl. Don't you think so?"
"She's lovely," Adam agreed, without much conviction. He got up and made his way to his armoire.
"You're not having second thoughts about the wedding, are you?" Lumière asked, trailing behind him.
Adam snorted as he perused a row of suits. "'Second thoughts' would imply that I had some input in the matter in the first place."
"Ah." Lumière nodded his head and sighed in understanding. "If only we could all marry for love."
Adam rolled his eyes; he was in no mood for Lumière's hopeless romanticism at the moment. "Or not at all. My point is, my opinion doesn't matter. It never has. Some duke does my father a favor twenty years ago, and I'm the one who has to repay it by marrying his daughter? How is that fair?"
Lumière shrugged again. "It may seem unfair, but I'm sure there are plenty of young men outside this castle who would trade their hardships for yours."
"Well they're welcome to have her."
Lumière looked at him sharply. "That's not a very nice way to talk about Elisabeth."
"She's a bore," Adam declared flatly.
"How can you know that? Every time the poor girl tries to talk to you, you find some excuse to remove yourself from the conversation."
"That's because the only thing she seems interested in talking about - besides the wedding - are those stupid dogs of hers. If I have to spend the next forty years hearing about those damn dogs, I will never forgive my father."
"The dogs are a bit ... unruly," Lumière conceded as he helped Adam into a dark blue jacket. "But have you stopped to consider how she must feel about all of this? You're as much a stranger to her as she is to you, but on top of that, she's being forced to leave her home and her family behind. Everything here is new to her; perhaps the dogs are simply her way of trying to hold on to something familiar."
Adam wrinkled his nose. "Yes, well, one of those filthy little beasts became a little too familiar with my favorite pair of boots. Did you see the size of the hole it chewed in the toe? I'll never be able to get them fixed."
Lumière tried again. "All I'm saying is that you should give Elisabeth a chance. She's a beautiful, refined young lady from a respectable family. And I'm sure you will find that she has other, more appealing interests if you make an effort to know her. Perhaps she will even grow on you. You know, your mother wasn't very fond of your father when they were first married."
Lumière placed a hand lightly on Adam's shoulder. "Don't you think that maybe you are being a bit unfair? You may not believe it, but he does have your best interests at heart." Adam pursed his lips doubtfully, and Lumière sighed in defeat. "Fine, then. You'd better get on your way; you don't want to keep him waiting."
Adam took the long way to his father's suite, purposefully choosing a route that zigzagged through remote castle corridors in an effort to postpone what was certain to be an unpleasant conversation. He could picture his father growing increasingly irritated by the delay, and it satisfied him in some small way to know that at least he still had some influence over that. Inevitably, however, he found himself standing outside the study. He took a deep breath, clenched his fist tightly, and then knocked. "Come in," came his father's voice through the door.
Prince Édouard was standing next to a book shelf when Adam entered the room. Adam wished he had been sitting. There weren't many people who could make him feel small, but his father was an exception. He was every bit as tall and as muscular as Adam, despite the fact that he was approaching fifty. His once-dark hair had given way to gray years ago, but his brown eyes remained as sharp and as inscrutable as ever. There was something disconcerting to Adam about seeing those eyes looming over him, and he suspected that his father knew it and used it to his advantage. "You wanted to see me?" Adam asked, closing the door gently behind him.
"Have a seat," his father commanded, gesturing to the chair planted in front of the desk. As Adam sat, his father opened the heavy drapes that covered the large window behind the desk. For the second time that morning, Adam winced as the bright sunlight hit him squarely in the face.
"Do you have to do that?" he muttered irritably, raising a hand to shield his eyes.
"Does it bother you?" his father responded sagaciously, watching Adam's face closely as he sank into his seat.
"I have a ... headache," Adam answered.
Prince Édouard sniffed. "If that's all you have after the antics you were up to last night, then you should consider yourself lucky. I asked you to keep Denis occupied, not indoctrinate him into all of your bad habits."
"You told me to keep him entertained - and he was," Adam retorted.
"I should hope so. I hear it was quite a profitable evening for him."
"Did you call me in here just to scold me over a bad night of cards?" Adam crossed his arms grumpily. There was nothing he felt less like discussing with his father right now than his humiliation at the hands of a child.
Prince Édouard took a long sip of his tea before placing his cup down on the saucer and folding his hands neatly in front of him. "No, actually. I wanted to discuss what's going to happen after the wedding."
Adam's stomach plummeted in horror. Perhaps there was a topic he was less eager to discuss with his father. "Lumière already explained all of that to me!" he cried, leaning forward and waving his outstretched hands frantically in front of him, as if that could somehow stop his father from saying anything more.
"He did?" His father looked mystified.
"Yes, yes! When I was nine!" Did his father really mean to have this discussion now? And did he really believe that Adam was that naive on the subject?
"But how would he know ..."
"How would Lumière know?" Adam echoed incredulously. "Have you seen him with the maids?"
"What does that have to do with -"
Suddenly, Prince Édouard's eyes went wide, and the color drained from his face. To his credit, he looked as horrified as Adam felt; in fact, Adam didn't think he had ever seen his normally unflappable father so flustered. "Oh, no. No, no - you think I - you misunderstand - that's not - nine, really?"
"Yes!" Adam cried, trying to look anywhere but at his father.
"Well that seems a bit -," Prince Édouard cut himself off and cleared his throat. "I wasn't referring to that. What you ... do on the night of your wedding ... is your business. I was referring to what's going to happen a few weeks after the wedding."
Adam slumped weakly in his chair and let out a long breath. If his father hadn't sent for him in order to lecture him over his previous night's activities or to advise him on the finer points of marital relations, then why did he want to speak to him? Once he had an opportunity to regain his composure, he couldn't help being just a little bit curious about the real reason for his father's summons. "What's happening a few weeks after the wedding?"
"I've volunteered your services for an important bureaucratic assignment."
Adam's curiosity vanished as quickly as it had piqued. "Oh. What is it this time?" he sighed, eager to get to the point now that he understood why his father had called him in. "Do you want me to balance the tax ledgers? Or perhaps you have more noble friends in need of babysitters?" He doubted that the assignment was truly that important; tasks for his father tended to be dull and pointless. In fact, Adam suspected that most of them were invented solely as a means of distancing him from any activities or people of which his father disapproved; in other words, from anything fun.
"Your uncle and I have something different in mind," Prince Édouard responded, refusing to rise to the bait. "Something that will be slightly more difficult for you to pass off on one of my advisers when you grow bored with it." He paused for a moment, as if considering how to say what he wanted to say next. "You're familiar with the Compagnie Perpétuelle des Indes," he finally stated.
It didn't sound like a question, and yet Adam sensed that his father was waiting for him to answer before he continued. "I'm familiar," he said slowly.
"The Company has recently requested a large loan from your uncle in order to make some capital improvements to their ports. The problem is, they're already heavily indebted to the Crown, so he has some valid concerns about their ability to manage further funding."
Adam lifted a shoulder indifferently. "So don't give them the money."
His father smiled as if he had been expecting him to say that. "It's not that simple. Without these improvements, the Company is in real danger of going bankrupt. And if that happens, shareholders like our family and Elisabeth's family stand to lose a lot of money."
"It sounds like we've already lost a lot of money."
"That may be so," Prince Édouard acknowledged. "But your uncle believes that with more vigilant oversight, they could actually begin to turn a profit."
"So what does this have to do with me?" Adam asked warily.
"We've decided to send envoys to each of the port cities to report back on their specific needs and to supervise spending on the new infrastructure. You have been selected to be part of the delegation to Port Louis."
Adam bolted upright in his chair. "But that's in Île de France!" he protested.
"I'm glad to see that all the money I spent on your tutors wasn't entirely wasted," Prince Édouard observed wryly.
"You can't be serious! There's nothing there for me!" Adam sputtered incredulously.
"Except for your job," he father reminded him pointedly. "Which you'll be free to do without distraction."
Adam was numb. He didn't know much about the island territory except that it was hot and humid and very far from home. And if his father was sending him there, it undoubtedly lacked any of the comforts - or amusements - to which he was accustomed. "How long do you expect me to be there?"
"A few months, most likely. It depends on how much work needs to be done, and how quickly it progresses. Your uncle has sent a letter to the governor asking him to make arrangements for your stay. Once we've received confirmation from the governor, we can plan for your departure."
"But what about Elisabeth?" Adam argued, desperately clinging to anything that might allow him to wriggle out of this unwanted assignment. "You don't really expect me to leave her here alone so soon after we've been married?"
"Elisabeth won't be alone; her sister will be staying here while you're gone. I've already discussed it with their father, and he agrees that her company will go a long way toward relieving any sense of homesickness. But I'm sure she appreciates your concern."
"Elisabeth's father knows about this? Wait," Adam said suddenly, jumping to his feet. "You told him about this before you told me?"
"Sit down, Adam," his father ordered.
"I won't! How long has he known about this? Who else already knows about it?"
"Everyone who needs to know," his father replied.
"Everyone except for me!" Adam cried, backing toward the door.
"I'm telling you now! Now sit down, and stop acting like a child so that we can discuss this reasonably!"
"What's to discuss?" Adam complained bitterly. "It sounds like you and your friend the Duke already have everything worked out!" He pushed the door open so forcefully in his haste to exit his father's study that he nearly slammed into Cogsworth, who had been waiting in the hallway. Cogsworth yelped indignantly as he attempted to regain his balance, but Adam was already halfway down the hall by the time he got his feet back under him. Adam stalked through the corridors with no real sense of where he was heading. He no longer had the appetite for breakfast, but he was far too agitated to attempt going back to sleep. And he had no desire to run into any of his guests. As he fumed over his conversation with his father, he realized that his earlier prediction had been wrong. His morning, had, in fact, gotten much worse.
Muchas gracias to TrudiRose for helping me with this first chapter and to the folks at Bittersweet and Strange for allowing me to bounce ideas for this story off of them.
I also owe a thank you to The Green Archer, who suggested the new and improved story title. Now with 50% less pretension!