La Couronne d'Licorne

La Couronne d'Licorne

Chapter 1.

For each age is a dream that is dying, or one that is coming to birth. -Ode, Arthur O'Shaughnessy

"Following the experiences of my companions and myself in Russia I felt even more determined to unravel the secrets surrounding my sister's murder. I had become all the more acutely aware that my sister's life had been as much a mystery to me as her death. I had idolized her, but I had not known her. Everywhere that my travels took me I encountered individuals whom she had irrevocably touched. People who had known a Lia de Beaumont that I had not. The need to understand this person who had been my sister consumed me as much as the unknown goals towards which her soul unwaveringly drove me. In my preoccupation I had not taken the time to question the coincidences surrounding my companions or how they and I were linked through the common thread of Lia's incomparable acquaintance. Nor did I realize at the time how long ago that thread had begun to be spun."


1753 (ten years prior to the events of the Anime)

Versailles glistened like a jewel in the early morning light. This early in the morning there were only a few people about, mostly servants of one sort or another preparing the day for a nobility that in large part had not yet begun to stir.

Madame Therese, Headmistress for the south wing of the palace struggled with an unwieldy burden of fabric and the service entrance door.

"Let me help you."

Therese looked up at the delicate yet strong face of a young woman who seemed to shine with all the brilliance of the palace itself. Smiling disarmingly, she took a portion of the older woman's burden and held the door with her slender frame.

"Mademoiselle Lia, I didn't know you had returned to us so soon!"

The young woman nodded, loose golden curls bouncing as they walked along the polished hall.

"I was summoned back to court." She paused. "To be honest, I left before my brother was awake this morning. Since our mother died it is harder and harder to leave him."

"It must be a difficult time for such a sensitive boy to be separated from the only family he has."

Not only for him. Lia thought to herself wistfully. Observing the rush of activity indoors contrasting with the almost languid air outside she spoke; "What has happened here in my absence?"

Madame Therese glanced at her with an expression that seemed to say that if she only knew she would know better than to ask.

"A delegation from Scotland has been put up here in the south wing."

"Not the Embassy?"

"Well, with Scotland no longer a sovereign country the embassy building has been given over to other uses."

"The English embassy then, unless...are they Jacobites?"

"It's not my place to ask questions." Madame Therese sniffed in that way that servants did when exaggerating their discretion. "But if I were to say so they aren't like any Jacobites I've ever met. No more concern for that 'Prince Charlie' of theirs than I have."

Lia smiled. Madame Therese had been part of the serving staff eight years ago when Prince Charles had visited court looking for French support in the ill fated revolt Scotland had waged against English subjugation. He had won his cause, but not many friends amongst the cleaning staff, or the wine master who had been greatly alarmed at the sudden drop in his supply as a result of 'Prince Charlie's' uncommon capacity for drink. Already an exile from his home country Prince Charles had been exiled from France as well for his scandalous activities, generally of the romantic nature. It was rumored he had returned incognito but it seemed the crown had decided to turn a blind eye to the matter providing it remained out of the public arena.

They reached a service preparation room and lay the material on tables. Most of it was clean bedding but there were a few bolts of dress cloth.

"This is lovely."

"For the moment." Madame Therese said with a slight edge before answering Lia's questioning glance. "Our King, who is in God's grace, has taken it into his divinely misguided mind to hold a summer outing." Therese's tone might have seemed irreverent coming from someone else. Anyone who knew Therese and her dedication to the smooth operation of the Palace would know better. To Madame Therese's mind the Palace Versailles would be much more easily run without the capriciousness of nobles cluttering up everything. "And that child has managed to destroy every dress I've put on her. Something will have to be made for her for the occasion."

"Child?" Lia asked, unrolling a length of the fabric, white with a blue floral pattern.

"The little boy I can understand." Madame Therese clarified. "Dusty knees, muddy shoes, expects such things from boys, but that girl! Yards of stained silk and I can't say how many broken hoops! I've never seen such a child. Do you know where they were the day before yesterday? Stripped down to their petticoats and shorts swimming in the fountain! And there's the Ambassadors of Spain and Italy pulling up in a carriage right at that very moment. I might have died of embarrassment!"

"Well, they are only children. Surely they aren't so bad."

"Petit Diables!"

The sound of running feet erupted into the room, stopping suddenly as their small owner recognized Madame Therese.

"Excuse m...I mean, Pardon!" He squeaked with a strong accent. He was no more than five, large blue eyes peering out from under a sheaf of unruly red hair. He glanced back and forth between Madame Therese and Lia as if hoping the latter would rescue him from the inevitable wrath of the former.

"Well, there's one." Madame Therese sighed at the baggy pants knees, torn stockings and dirty hands. "The other won't be far behind."

Almost immediately a second set of running feet approached.

The girl burst in, her reaction to the Headmistress similar to the boy's. She recovered faster however, putting a protective arm over the much smaller child's shoulder and across his chest. She seemed to instinctively regard a stranger as a potential threat and Lia caught the barely perceptible motion of her left hand towards a hidden weapon, no doubt a dagger. She wondered if Madame Therese knew about that. Unlikely, and it would be best for all concerned if it stayed that way. Something about the girl captured her interest, something besides the amusing bedevilment of staff and social convention. She was not like other girls of her age at court. There was a wary strength about her and her obvious devotion to protecting the boy reminded her of herself and her own brother when they had been younger, although this girl was about D'Eon's age, now fifteen.

"What trouble have you been causing now?" Madame Therese's chastising tone stopped short as yet another person entered the room. "EH?! Duc d'Broglie!"

"Your charges Madame."

"Y...Yes sir! God forbid they've troubled you!"

"Sissy wanted to ask the King why he was having Hercules painted in his new anteroom. We think Cu Cullen would be better."

"The King! Dieu m'en garde!"

"He said he'd never thought about it." The little boy went on brightly. "But since his dad put all classical heroes in the other rooms it's probably best he stick to the same."

Lia stifled a giggle as Madame Therese looked like she might have an attack of some sort. So, they were brother and sister after all. Between the boy's ruddy complexion and the girl's pale skin and hair it would have been hard to tell.

"I...I regret the intrusion! Please take my deepest apologies to his majesty!" Madame Therese managed to gasp.

"Indeed." The Duc d'Broglie intoned darkly with a barely visible nod as he stiffly exited.

"Oh, petit monstres! Whatever shall I do with you?!" She raised a fist and shook it although Lia knew she could never hurt either of them.

"Oh do spare them!" Lia laughed. "Really! They are only children, and so far from home."

Madame Therese shook her head but only returned to sorting laundry.

A soft knock came and a young girl peeked around the frame.

"Yes Anna, come in."

Anna epitomized the proper young lady of minor standing at court. Politely she entered and bowed slightly. She held the hand of a boy even smaller yet than the Scottish boy. Red haired and enormous blue eyes, they looked very similar at first glance. But his hair was combed neatly in a page's style and he was dressed impeccably, complete with an impressively large white bow at his throat. He peered warily at the rougher looking boy but otherwise seemed to strive for courtly perfection despite his diminutive age which Lia guessed to be the upper end of four.

"This is Queen Marie's new page, Robin." Anna introduced. "As there aren't any other small children in the palace at the time, she thought he might be a good playmate for Aiden."

"That was thoughtful." Madame Therese nodded her appreciation. "Please send my thanks to her majesty. We'll do our best not to corrupt him." She added under her breath with a warning glare at the other two.

"Uh, Mademoiselle Lia...?"

"Don't worry Anna, I'll come and talk to you soon, and give you all our news from home." Lia smiled. The girl had had a crush on D'Eon for at least a year since Lia had brought him to be presented to the court. He had disliked it there, to the point of misery and she had not brought him again. He hadn't had any objection to Anna however, perhaps it was a matter she might pursue. If only to make his time at court a little more appealing. He would soon be old enough that his reticence towards the other nobility would cease to look merely childish. Not that it seemed to concern him. He was happy with his books and studies. It seemed destined that only she would ever really know the brilliance that hid within him, somehow unable to impel itself to action without her.

Anna smiled brightly, making a little bow. "I'll come to collect Robin in a few hours." She excused herself and dashed off. Robin watched her vanish, his expression clearly showing he was a bit uneasy with what he may have been gotten into. The other two children watched him curiously.

"Why don't we go out into the garden so you can play and get acquainted?" Lia suggested. "Do you mind Madame Therese?"

"Uh..."She had begun sorting bedding. "Yes, yes, they'll only be underfoot inside. Lorena and Tilda are beating rugs in the little garden, they can look after them."

The pale haired girl, Aewen, and her little brother lost no time in making a game of running under the heavy rugs draped over lines, seeing how close they could get to just missing being thwacked by a carpet beater. Robin watched them a little awkwardly. Lia crouched down beside him.

"Aren't you going to play?"

He looked a little confused. "I'm a page." He offered as if that should be explanation enough.

"Court life is pretty strict. A chance like this might not come again for a long time. You should learn to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. You might not get a second chance." He regarded her quietly, a very bright boy for his age, he seemed to grasp her point but he still hesitated.

"I'll remind Anna to find you some play clothes next time." And maybe some of D'Eon's hand-me-downs would suit the girl and save Madame Therese's dress and hoop supply. She thought. "Queen Marie sent you to play with them didn't she?"

He nodded solemnly.

"Well, you don't want to disappoint her do you?"

He shook his head, eyes wide at such a horrid thought, and then ran off after the others.


She turned at the sound of her name.

"Oh, Maximilien!" He was walking towards her looking slightly perturbed.

"I was afraid I'd miss you before I left."

"Left? Where?"

"You didn't get my message? The Duc de Luxembourg has arranged a meeting for me with Jean Jacques Rousseau before he returns to Switzerland!"

"The opera writer?"

"He's a philosopher first and foremost Lia. Didn't you read that booklet?"

"Uh, The Discourse on the Arts and Sciences? Yes." Actually she had only leafed through it. D'Eon had read it and pronounced it rubbish.

"It's brilliant isn't it? A whole brand new way of thinking! Everything we've always believed, society, the Monarchy...Everything will change! Do you want to come with me?"

She studied his face. She loved him, especially like this, flushed with excitement over some new idea. He was an idealist certainly. One of those people who believed he could change the world single handedly. D'Eon was an idealist too of course, only D'Eon would change the world with the pen, Maximilien with action.

"I can't, I'm expected in the King's office in half an hour."

Maximilien nodded. "We're on the verge of war with England again. I think he wants you to negotiate some troop movements through Scotland. That's why these people are here."

"England's made it illegal to recruit Irish and Scottish troops anymore."

"Let's say King Louis XV is expecting you to come up with an alternative to legal means."

"I see."

"When Rousseau's work catches on we won't have wars any more. I wish you were coming."

"I'll see you this evening. I suspect these negotiations will take some time."

"Undoubtedly, they'll want something in return, and France is broke, thanks to the Monarchy."

"Shh, Maximilien." She tried to look cross, but of course he was right. He shrugged softly.

"This evening?"



King Louis XV was writing at his desk. Well, that had been the intention when he sat down this morning. There had been a few interruptions, but really it was the glittering view of the gardens out the window that distracted him. He hadn't even been aware how much time had passed inactively until a very familiar soft footstep came to rest just behind him to the left.

"Ah, Broglie. What news?"

"Madame Therese sends her regrets for the early morning intrusion."

"Mmhmm." He paused, adding a few words to the document in front of him although he was sure Broglie was just as aware as he was that he had neglected it all morning. "Impertinent children." He smiled. "We suppose our father would have been furious at such a breach."


King Louis peeked over at the Duc who returned the gaze with one eye. It seemed as if the old man only ever used one eye at a time. Presumably it was to do with an old injury, but King Louis was certain that there was some symbolic reason for the behavior. Working as closely as he did with the King's personal matters, perhaps it signified an approximation of the concept behind not letting your left hand know what your right hand was doing. On the other hand it might be a reminder that the wise man with secrets to guard would do well to sleep with one eye open. Whatever the reason, Broglie had served the King well, and his father before him. There was not a man in the kingdom he would place greater trust in. In some ways, he had no choice. Broglie knew too much.

"You say Lia has returned to the Palace?'

"Yes sire."

"Good. Put her to work on the negotiations for the troops and weapons."

"Very well."

"However...the matter concerning those children's identity, and Chief McKannin's claims regarding them. Perhaps it is best to hold back those playing cards for the time being."

"As you wish your majesty."


It was not for nothing that King Louis XV was known as "The Beloved." His had been a reign of peace and decadence. It was a monarchy that benefited the common people very little, although, overwhelmed with gladness not to have to sacrifice any more of their sons to the Spaniards, they had not yet stopped living vicariously through the excesses of the ruling class long enough to see the decaying society collapsing around them.

The Royal Summer Outing of '53 was no exception to the opulent and lavish lifestyle the nobility now favored. Nothing had been spared in food, drink, entertainment, or amusement. Wine flowed like the fountain in the palace courtyard and indiscretion filled the air with giggles and whispers flitting like butterflies on the soft summer breeze.

In the midst of this milieu a young apprentice knight had neglected his duties to have a closer look at the ruling class he would in two years time be pledging his life and loyalty to. He had found it quite an education.

Keeping a low profile, Durand had worked his way as close to the Royal canopy as he dared. He found the King, while regal in his way, not quite what he would have imagined of a magisterial sovereign. Indeed, it was the queen that exuded majesty. It was rumored that she was pregnant, though it would be difficult to tell with those synched in corsets. The Madame d'Pompadour was not quite so inconspicuous. She seemed to keep to the background, her swollen abdomen hiding no secrets. It was rumored that the King himself had sired her child, though, like many who still held to the old ideas of knightly chivalry, Durand found it hard to believe such talk. A King must surely be a man of duty and honor. His responsibility to France should certainly place him above such tawdry natures.

A young girl ran past giggling, nearly knocking into him as she whispered deafeningly to her equally painted and immensely hoop dressed companions of her prospects for a fiancé. Distracted, Durand had lost track of palace chief guard Sir Boucherie and was brought unpleasantly back to attention by the sound of someone loudly clearing his throat right behind him.

There was no need for words as Boucherie glared down at him, every bit the brawny figure of a man whose life was dedicated to the protection of the royal family itself. His uniform was impeccable, every brass button shining. A stark contrast to the dark warning expression with which he fixed the young knight in training. With a few muttered apologies Durand excused himself and fled with as much dignity as the occasion would allow.

Filled with the experiences of the afternoon and not just a little very fine French wine, Durand walked across a wide empty field in the direction of his quarters and his less than exciting duties. He wondered if Boucherie would report him. Probably. Boucherie was a harsh taskmaster. Every apprentice knight coveted the honor of being posted to the palace guard, and every apprentice knight lived in mortal fear of serving under Boucherie. Unfortunately, too clever for his own good, Durand found himself in frequent trouble and doubted that the good side of the palace guard would ever be part of his professional future. A negative report from the chief of the Palace Guard would not be helpful to say the least.

His mind on his own troubles, Durand had not noticed the field had been sloping downwards, cutting off the sounds of merriment and festivity just a short distance away. Ahead lay a large pond, probably a natural spring, edged with trees. Under the trees, as if from a hidden world, two children were playing, chasing each other. Both were dressed simply enough, the boy, about five, had abandoned his coat on the grass. Both were barefoot in the soft grass. With a start he realized the girl was about the same age as the red haired girl who had inadvertently revealed his position earlier. It was the lack of make-up, hoop style dress or bound waist that had fooled him into thinking her much younger. She raced out from beneath the trees, the sun suddenly glinting on her long loose hair. Not red, not blonde, a color he'd never seen before, like finely burnished copper.

Laughing, looking back at the boy struggling valiantly to keep up, she didn't see him until she had almost collided with him. She stopped still, staring uncertainly. The little boy hid behind her, peeking out suspiciously.

"Bonjour, Mademoiselle." Durand greeted, almost unsure if she were even real, or rather some sort of magical creature inhabiting the spring.

"Excuse me Monsieur!" She answered. Was that actually French? The accent was terrible. Rather like English but not quite.

"I didn't mean to startle you." He ventured.

"No harm. Would you like to play with us?"

He stared at her. Did she not recognize the uniform of a knight of France? Well, a knight in training yes, but still! She must indeed be foreign, some small poor country. Probably the children of a visiting ambassador come to beg Louis XV for help. He brushed aside the lock of hair that fell to the side of his face with an authoritative air before placing his hands on his hips.

"As a knight of France I haven't time for children's play." He explained, not haughtily, but certainly mustering every impression of knowing maturity he could.

"Oh, I see." She eyed the obvious practice sword he wore with an expression that made him somewhat uncomfortable with his self exaggeration. "Then what do you do?"

Good question. Most of his time seemed to revolve around mucking out stables and preparing horses for "real" knights. Not exactly an occupation that would impress a girl he thought. Well, might as well bluff it out. He gestured grandly with one hand.

"We protect the Royal family and defend France from her enemies. Don't you have knights where you come from?"

"A' course!" The little boy glared at Durand from where he still half hid behind the girl. "The best in a' the world!" His accent was even thicker than the girl's..

"Surely not better than France mon petit monsieur." Durand humored him, impressed by the boy's defiance.

"Aye! My father serves with the Royal Ecossaise!"

"Fier comme un Ecossais." Durand smiled.

"My brother." The girl said apologetically, ruffling the boy's reddish hair affectionately. "And our father no longer serves. We believe he died in Flanders."

"No doubt France owes him a great debt then. My father served in Italy, but he came home."

"You were fortunate."

"Perhaps. It was only a temporary arrangement. So, what are you playing?"

"King Arthur!" Aiden shouted exuberantly.

"Perhaps my duties will permit a little time."

The boy, overjoyed at this new and challenging playmate had imperiously declared himself King Arthur, his sister Queen Guinevere, and Durand, by virtue of being French, Sir Lancelot, the greatest of all Knights. Not too familiar with the story, Durand had found himself pulled into what seemed an alternate reality. The afternoon wore on as if without notice, as if time had stopped here in this secluded and magical corner of the world. The weather grew hotter and the little boy sleepy. His sister sat under a tree with him and sang quietly in what Durand assumed to be Gaelic until he fell asleep. Durand sat leaning back against a tree listening, the warm peacefulness nearly lulling him to sleep as well. He closed his eyes, barely noticing the lyrics gentle transition to French.

"Broken hearted I'll wander, for the loss of my lover

He is my Bonny Light Horseman, in the wars he was slain.

If I were a blackbird and I had wings to fly

I would fly to the spot where my true love he does lie

And with my little fluttering wings his wounds I would heal

And all through the night on his breast I would lie.

I will dress in men's apparel and to his regiment I'll go

I will be a loyal subject and I'll fight all of his foes

He would think it an honor if I could prevail

And die on the field where my true love he was slain.

Broken hearted I'll wander...

She broke off gently, arranging the boy's jacket under his head for a pillow. Stroking his hair just a few last times.

"I never had any siblings." Durand commented. "But you seem closer than most."

"Well, my father was exiled from Scotland when I was very small and my mother went looking for him. I don't remember either of them. We never heard anything more, but Aiden was sent to us when he was just an infant, and my grandfather told me they had died. So, we've always been close." She stood up and walked towards the water.

"At home whenever it's this hot we go for a swim in the loch."


"I'm sorry, it's a little like a river, but it's where the ocean comes into the land." She explained, the French terms escaping her. She dipped one foot in the cool water. "Come on, I'll race you across and back."

"I...uh..." He started to his feet as the girl pulled off her blue floral print dress. Standing ankle deep in the cool water wearing only a lacey white undershirt and pantaloons that tapered at the knees, thin and pale, she looked like a water sprite as her long copper hair swung over her shoulders and down her back. Durand's pulse began to race, his face feeling hotter than the summer air that suddenly seemed very close.

"Well?" She looked back. "Can't you swim?"

Mon Dieu! Real Knights shouldn't blush!

He shook his head hard with a swallow, his hair flopping.

"That's okay, I'll teach you. I taught Aiden and Robin." She reached a hand towards him.


"Well. well, well. What's going on here Aewen?"

The intruder brought everything crashing back to reality. The palace just over the hill, how late it was getting, Boucherie. The new boy strode between them, arms crossed. He was taller and far thinner than Durand although the same age. At his side hung a practice sword, without any insignia of knighthood. He looked quite a bit like the sleeping boy who sat up and rubbed his eyes groggily. "It seems Grandfather would of warned you not to go playing with frogs Aewen, who knows what you might catch." He sneered. His French was much better than the other two's but it was clear by his manner how much he detested it.

"It was hot..." Durand tried to explain. "We were going to swim in the pond."

"Were you?" The boy's tone was suggestive.

"We were playing King Arthur." The little boy piped up, getting to his feet. "Sister is Guinevere and he's Lancelot!"

The tall boy made a disgusted face at him. "Looks like they know their parts well enough." He replied, appraising the girl's figure as she stood, still in her underclothes. "Well, you know what they do to King Arthur don't you my little imaginary regent?"

Aewen snatched up her dress and went to her brother's side. Her expression was furious. "And who are you then? Sir Mordred? Don't you pick on Aiden or I'll have grandfather box your ears Findan McKaninn, If I don't do it myself!" She put a protective arm across the little boy's chest from behind. "And you owe an apology to this gentleman, a real knight of France. Mind yourself Findan or he'll give you the thrashing you really deserve!"

I will? Durand hadn't time to think about it. Findan laughed and drew his sword. He saluted sloppily and charged. Durand drew his own weapon and met the approaching blade, throwing it off and regrouping for his own offensive. He would hold off drawing his main-gauche as a last resort.

"Winner gets a kiss from Queen Guinevere!" Findan snarled and the two collided again.

Sir Boucherie had broken them up before they could do much damage. Then he had delivered a scathing sermon and the promise of a full report to Durand's superior officer. At the moment Durand was only grateful that Aewen had gotten her dress back on before Boucherie had arrived. Fighting with visitors to the palace was enough without having to explain an inexplicably half dressed girl.

The sun was preparing to set as the three dutifully following Boucherie across the field back to the palace. Durand wondered if it would be best to go back to his quarters and await his sentence or go into town for the evening, avoiding the whole mess until at least tomorrow morning. He was suddenly aware of foot falls behind him, running fast. He turned. Aewen, long hair shimmering in the late sunlight. She ran up a little breathless.

"I...I forgot your reward Sir Knight, for beating my cousin."

"The match was interrupted."

She tippy-toed and kissed his cheek before he could react, then dashed off to catch up with the others. He watched her until she was out of sight.



1) This story is based on the Anime version of Le Chevalier D'Eon, placing it in approximately 1763, the year the Treaty of Paris was signed by King Louis XV, as shown in the anime.

2) 1753 (the time period of the above flashbacks) is 8 years after the disaster of Culloden Scotland, the ill-fated last Jacobite uprising led by "Bonnie Prince Charlie" despite loss of French support.

The Jacobites were mostly Highland Scots who supported James VII, James VIII, and their descendants as the rightful kings of Scotland rather than subjection to the English throne. The concept of hereditary rule was of paramount importance. Ironic considering that the Stuart family was put on the throne by the English King (Edward I) after the true royal line died without heir.

At the time of this story James Edward Stuart is the hereditary king of Scotland, living in exile. His son, Prince Charles, is also living in exile in France and gleefully tumbling from one debouched scandal to the next. For several years he led a spasmodic attempt to regain the crown with support from France. After Culloden he vowed to return but somehow never quite made it back. However the Jacobite faith in a separate king for Scotland remained strong.

Later on the French revolutionaries led by Robespierre would be called Jacobins.

3) The characters refer to the Legend of King Arthur, his Queen Guinevere and especially the French knight that joined his court, Lancelot. Lancelot never fit in, being perfect and undefeatable is no way to make friends. Being French in England was bad enough. Mordred was Arthur's misbegotten son destined to kill him. There is a certain irony in that the most well known surviving version of the legend was written by a Frenchman.

4)Jean Jacques Rousseau was a philosopher of the time. He was also a hedonistic idiot who has a great deal to answer for concerning the state of modern society and education. He was VERY influential on the real Maximilien Robespierre, and many of his ideas shaped the French revolution. He was a close buddy of England's Philosopher David Hume who was a member of the real Hellfire club founded by Francis Dashwood of Medmenham Abbey.

5) The Royal Eccosse was the Royal Scottish Regiment. It was made up of Scottish exiles in France, recruited soldiers as per the "Auld Alliance", and fortune seekers who had lost faith in accomplishing anything in a homeland strictly oppressed by the English. They fought all over Europe. Flanders and Italy (as mentioned in the story) were both locations of heavy fighting during the War of Austrian Succession. Durand's phrase in French when Aiden mentions his father's service means "Proud as a Scotsman" a saying common at the time and also an apt description of Aiden's fiery little attitude.

6) The song quoted (without permission obviously) is Brokenhearted I'll Wander. The song is traditional but dated later than the time period of this story, as it refers to "Boney" or Bonaparte. However, the sentiment is far away much older. The source used was the album Heart's Desire by Niamh Parsons.