Sorting out some business left over from the Joyful Quadrille.
Carries the usual warning: no Doctor Who elements as such, just a
couple of characters who were at the Quadrille.
Igenlode and I wrote this using a scaled-down version of the method
used to write the Quadrille itself, complete with parallel email
discussion of "where does the story go from here" - which may explain
why it took a month and a half to write...
It follows from L'Aiglonne's appearance at this years Adric Awards
ceremony, of which you might like to refresh your memory:
For a while after the ceremony comes to an end, Paul continues
staring off into space.
"I'm beginning to wish I had got around to signing up as a presenter
this year," he announces to nobody in particular. "I could have roped
in Donald's colleagues, used some of that backstory I always insist
exists but which I never actually use." A thought strikes him. "A
horror movie, maybe, with omninous owls and sinister butlers and mad
wheelchair-bound koala scientists and vampire watermelons..."
After a moment, he shakes himself out of his reverie and turns to
"Good evening," he says. "I hope you and your family are well?"
L'Aiglonne's eyes brighten, as if at a memory, and she nods. "I had a
letter from Martinique but two days past."
She laughs. "Long months in the travelling, I fear. In all those wild
stories of King and homeland of Danilo's telling, never once did any
detail so prosaic as the mails feature; and now I may hazard as to
that a guess of my own... At home, we have the season of hurricanes,
which is peril enough: but here -" she breaks off with a little
quizzical air, glancing around, and corrects herself - "but in
Schelstein-Hortig, it seems, our poor missives have also snow,
mountains, and Italian /banditti/ - to which one may add Customs-
agents, as the worst of the four - with which to contend. It is a
wonder, I swear, that any word should have reached me at all!"
But her eyes are dancing with merriment, and it is clear that the
shortcomings of Balkan postal services have been the cause of more
amusement than of complaint. She sobers a little. "My father writes
in person, trusting to no amanuensis as was his wont, and the news
from Mireille is ill, though no more so than we have become
accustomed of late. The harvest was poor, and the prices worse. The
land is already much encumbered. Thierry will hold the estate
together while he lives - but Mireille as it was in the days of my
childhood, when Edmond and Emile ran wild, and the white hound Belle
and I followed devoted at their heels - Mireille in its golden days
will never come again. St-Pierre may prosper, but the great estates
have no part in that wealth."
L'Aiglonne sighs, and for a moment Paul can glimpse in her eyes the
determination of the woman who undertook to run her own company, in
the teeth of all expectations and advice. "I will hold what I can for
Jeannot. But I fear it will be an inheritance greater in name than in
value by the time that he shall come of age..."
She has been speaking almost to herself. Now she seems to make a
conscious effort to pull herself back into a cheerful mood, shrugging
off worries for her former home. "But that has been long foreseen, to
be sure, and is no more and no less than we had reason to expect, my
father and I. And all else at Mireille goes well; my mother is in
better health and has taken herself a pet, a lap-dog of which my
father writes with little-disguised loathing - poor beast, I hope it
may not be too much spoiled, but the tales of its antics had us in
merriment as we read. The Indians wish to build a meeting-house, and
my father has set aside an hour of labour a week which they may
apportion as they please; he writes that their ingenuity in
contriving the materials is almost beyond belief."
She glances across at Paul, and laughs. "Oh, but you have no interest
in such details, Mister -"
"Paul. Just Paul." He swallows. "Actually, I -"
"Paul," L'Aiglonne repeats softly to herself, her accent turning it
slightly, and for a brief hysterical moment, remembering her
pronunciation of 'Brad Willis', Paul finds himself giving thanks that
his own name comes easier to a French tongue.
"Actually," he manages again, "I meant, um, your new family."
"Danilo?" Her face, softened and radiant, is in that moment answer
enough. Then she smiles. "He amuses himself well enough. He even
begins to take some interest in his lands beyond the pride of his
name -" the smile is tender now, indulgent - "when he cannot romp
aside with Jeannot and the rest. Imagine to yourself, my Jehan who
had never seen snow! Less fell this winter, they tell me, than the
last; but to me in all conscience, it would seem more than enough."
A cloud crosses her expression. "Jehan finds no great favour with
/Madame la belle-mère/, I fear. The old Gräfin is over-set in her
ways to have patience for a growing boy, and it is hard for the pride
of her lineage, to see her son love another man's child..." Her mouth
tightens. "I wonder, sometimes, how Danilo grew so sweet-natured as
he is; for it was not from his mother he learned it."
But the momentary hard line of her lips has already quirked upwards,
"Of my own person, she is pleased to approve. Being at the least, as
I am given to understand, of Danilo's own religion and complexion -
and even approaching near to his station in life..." L'Aiglonne
shakes her head. "/Eh bien/, one need not love /la belle-mère/, but
at least one should respect her. She has held that land in her son's
name since her lord died, some eighteen summers past."
She moves slightly in her chair, as if trying to find a comfortable
position, and sighs, smiling. "But Jeannot - he has been too long
alone. Now he has other playmates, and Osman's eldest daughter has
taken him to heart, being at that age when girls become motherly to a
young child. Already he learns the language faster than I - who have
more Dutch than /Deutsch/, I fear." She looks somewhat rueful. "I
make shift well enough among them in my own tongue, or in English -
but I would not be forever a foreigner."
There is a moment of silence, and Paul finds himself reflecting on
his own small ability with the /Deutsche Sprache/. It was never
large, and has dwindled since his schooldays to little more than
"Guten tag", "Auf wiedersehen", and "Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte"; but
he has never felt and is never likely to feel the lack as keenly as
L'Aiglonne must do.
"Thank you for telling me," he says. "I'm glad to hear that Danik and
Jehan are doing well. And Osman and his family, by the sound of it?"
His gaze flicks to the stage so recently vacated by Hilde and Linde.
"Though I could see already that *some* members of that company are
in fine health and spirits..."
"Indeed," L'Aiglonne agrees, both eyebrows flying heavenward at once.
"I know of only one thing more exhausting to endure than the twins'
enjoyment, and that is their desolation. At Christmas-tide Hilde was
caught by their mother red-handed amongst the berry-pots -"
"Strawberry, I assume," Paul interjects, unable to resist, but
L'Aiglonne does not catch the joke.
"- one could not say which howled louder, the twin who was whipped or
the twin who was not," she is continuing ruefully. "I warrant the
noise could be heard halfway to Strelsau - I know not how two sturdy
maids can brawl like a schoolboy troop entire..."
Paul glances round a little nervously in case either of the twins is
in earshot, but they seem to have completely disappeared.
"I fear they lack a father's hand," L'Aiglonne is saying softly, with
a tiny frown of unhappiness or concentration. "I would not change
Danilo even if I could - but he and Osman are no longer boys
together, to follow wherever the other shall lead with never a
thought behind. He cannot take Osman forever from his home without
accounting the cost; but to sail without his friend would be a wound
hard for both to bear."
Paul wonders if he ought to say something; but everything he can come
up with sounds hopelessly fatuous. And L'Aiglonne has started to
smile - a little ruefully, but smiling all the same.
"We will find a way, the three of us," she says, with that quiet
curve to her mouth. "The four of us - for Osman's lady must needs be
willing to take my part. But of that I do not doubt. She is all
mother to her very soul, that one - I would trust her, at need, with
She sighs. "Or with that of my own child. When the little ones were
ill, this winter - Katja and little Jenushka - it was Magda who
nursed them, and would not have any other near, for fear of
contagion, though she took the fever herself and was sorely put to
"Ill? The little girls? Are they all right?" Paul says quickly, but
L'Aiglonne reassures him.
"Naught but a childish fever - though it took the roses awhile from
Katja's cheeks. She is a sweet child, Ekaterina. She and Liesl are
very like to their mother, and Liesl at least bids fair in womanhood
to be a beauty."
She is laughing at herself now. "When I wed Danilo, I had not thought
to gain a quiverful of adoptive nieces! But /Tantchen/ I am to them
all, and they heed me as much as they heed any."
"Speaking of when you wed Danilo," Paul says, then stops. "It seems a
bit presumptuous of me, now I come to it," he remarks, "considering
what short acquaintance I actually have with your husband; but he's
one of those people you feel you know really well even on a short
acquaintance - don't suppose I'm telling you anything new there..."
He catches sight of L'Aiglonne's expression and pauses to contemplate
the tangle his sentence has become. He coughs.
"When, as I was saying, the news came that Danilo was to be married,"
he begins again, "I was moved to seek a gift to commemorate the
occasion; but as I know nobody to whom I could entrust the task of
delivering it, I had resigned myself to waiting until it should
chance that his path once more crossed mine."
He pulls his backpack out from beneath his seat, and retrieves from
it a small wooden box.
"I would be grateful if you would convey this to Danilo, with my
compliments. It's... a family portrait, to mark the occasion of his
having at last acquired a family." He hesitates, then adds: "It is a
gift as much to you as to him, and I would have no objection to you
looking at it now."
L'Aiglonne reaches out to touch his arm briefly. "A portrait? That
was no presumption, Paul, but a very gentle thought."
She takes the box from him with deft fingers and balances it on her
knee, leaning forward a little awkwardly to slide open the catch and
reveal the contents. With the tip of her tongue caught back against
her upper lip in unselfconscious concentration, for a moment she has
the look of a child with an unexpected Christmas present.
"I hope you'll like it," Paul says, nerves on edge as he watches her
face for the first hint of response. But L'Aiglonne has already
turned back the lid.
The inside of the box is padded like a jewel-case in cerulean-blue
velvet. Within there rests - not the enamelled miniature that,
judging by her movement of surprise, she had been half-expecting from
his earlier words, but a carved and painted wooden image. Its new
possessor has it in her hands, turning it over with a wondering look
that becomes a gurgle of laughter as she catches sight of the
skilfully-depicted features on the far side. "A portrait in truth! A
little Danilo-doll - but you have him here in a likeness of the most
And indeed, the craftsman has caught Count Danik's image to the very
life. The figurine is more splendidly-dressed than is the
Ruritanian's wont, at least on those occasions on which Paul knew
him, and the bright paint of a brass spy-glass, held loosely in the
left hand resting across an upraised knee, is rivalled by touches of
gold at belt and throat. But the modelled pose - with one foot
resting on a mossy rock to provide the figure's widening base, while
the merry grey eyes gaze out, spy-glass unheeded, across fresh seas
and pastures new - is every inch Danik of Ruritania.
"'Now bring me that horizon...'" Paul says, under his breath, looking
from the expression on the painted face to the laughter in the face
of the lady at his side.
She doesn't seem to have encountered dolls of this type before. He
takes it from her, carefully, twisting the two halves apart and
handing them back. "The figures are hollow - see? There is a whole
With a soft exclamation at the ingenuity of the concept, L'Aiglonne
extracts a second wooden doll from inside the first, and cannot hold
back an chuckle of surprised pleasure. The inner figure has wide-
spreading crimson skirts held out in both hands, as if dipping in
curtsey; but the vivid hawk-face is crowned with a mass of dark hair
braided back, and the hilt of a slender blade is riding at her side.
"You flatter me, I think," she murmurs, touching the painted nose
with a rueful finger.
Paul shakes his head. "No," he tells her quite honestly, "it's an
He is not entirely sure she takes him at his word; but she sets down
the two halves of the outermost doll on the empty chair beside her,
fitting them carefully back together, and twists her own wooden
figure experimentally. "And inside this..?"
But even as he nods in encouragement she is pulling out a third,
smaller doll, and he sees her eyes warm afresh at the image of a
small, brown-haired boy, with the head of a sleepy Great Dane puppy
pillowed in his lap. "And Tichot too," she says softly, looking at
the dog and shaking her head with a disbelieving smile. "How could
you have known..?"
Paul, not at all certain how L'Aiglonne is likely to react to a
literal answer, swallows and sincerely hopes this is a rhetorical
question on her part.
Apparently, it is. At any rate, she sets her own image down beside
that of her husband, and touches the painted image of her son without
a word, with a tender finger that traces the folds of the child's
jacket as if brushing across the clothing of the living boy. She
"Paul -" And to his discomfort he sees that her eyes are bright with
a sudden rush of tears.
"Wait," he says quickly to stave off the moment, taking the Jehan-
doll from her and twisting it. "There's still -"
He breaks off. L'Aiglonne, catching sight of this action, has frozen,
her lips half-parted. She has flushed suddenly, hotly, as if dipped
Her glance goes sidelong, to the tiny shape half-revealed within the
smallest doll, then unconsciously down. Paul, following her gaze
almost without thinking, sees, as if for the first time, the hands
clasped in that instinctive, protective gesture beneath the waist of
her loose gown. Remembers the careful way she has been moving all
evening. Looks again at the nesting doll he has just started to
open... showing what should be the youngest - current - member of the
The nature of L'Aiglonne's secret dawns. Paul comes, belatedly, to
the same conclusion as Mistress Helen.
"Oh," he says.
The next couple of seconds threaten to be the longest of his life. He
wonders, frantically, if felicitations from an individual of the male
persuasion whom she's only just met are likely to be considered
indelicate; decides that the answer is almost undoubtedly 'Yes'.
Which leaves the problem of what on earth he's going to say next.
"Um," he manages. Taking inspiration from the little figure in his
hand, he slides Jehan's upper half free and empties out the miniature
lustrous shape at the dolls' core. The innermost statue is not wooden
like the others, but wrought from metal that seems to gleam softly
silver in the light. The delicate wings on either side of the tiny
vessel quiver a little in his cupped palm, as if alive. For a moment
he half-expects to see the ship he holds take flight.
"*Oh*," L'Aiglonne breathes, all awkwardness forgotten now in wonder,
lifting the shining barque from his hand into her own with a feather-
light touch. "Oh, Paul..."
She holds the gift up to the light, the filigree of the pinions
trembling at her breath as if her own heart is leaping forward with
the spirit of the ship, and this time the tears do spill over. She
leans over and kisses him impulsively, her wet cheek against his. "Oh
Paul, he will love this. He will..."
Paul smiles, feeling tears prickling at the corners of his own eyes.
"That's... good to know," he says softly, swallowing the urge to
thank *her* for being pleased.
It is with a little jolt that he realises that they are almost alone
now, the last few of the audience starting to take their leave.
Worried that he probably ought to be going, but unsure how to say
goodbye, he looks round for inspiration. But L'Aiglonne, following
his gaze, has clearly been struck in the same moment by a
recollection of her own.
"Hilde and Linde... I bade them carry their romp outside, if romp
they must, and I have left them far too long. They will be at some
mischief if I do not make haste -"
She is 'making haste' even as she speaks, setting each statuette
within the two halves of its parent ranged before her, and laying
Paul's gift, reassembled, back into its sky-velvet nest. Paul
scrambles to his own feet, backpack in one hand, and finds himself
just too late to offer her help to rise. L'Aiglonne smiles at him,
extending her fingers towards him in a parting gesture. "Good-bye,
"Goodbye," Paul says, a little distractedly, wondering if he is
expected to salute the outstretched hand with his lips or if it would
come across as terribly uncultured to shake it instead. Self-
preservation suggests that the manly grip is less likely to go wrong.
"Goodbye," he says again, more firmly, holding out his own hand to
meet hers, and finding his clasp returned, after the first moment of
uncertainty, by fingers that are both stronger and more calloused to
the touch than he had somehow expected. They shake hands solemnly, as
if on a business deal; and he watches her go, a little heavy in her
movements but still graceful, with an air of determination that
suggests the errant twins may yet find themselves with some
explaining in store.
The room seems smaller when she has gone; and it occurs to him
ruefully, a few minutes later, that this is one more trait she
shares, in her way, with the irrepressible Count.
He stands for a moment looking around the now-empty auditorium,
feeling vaguely that he ought to produce some apposite remark on
which to close. Nothing occurs to him - beyond the thought that, when
it comes to remarks, "apposite" has always been somebody else's
middle name - and after a moment he shrugs self-consciously, hoists
his backpack onto one shoulder, and makes his own exit.