The Risks of Flying Too Close to the Sun
by Haley Moody
“How could you even show your face after what happened last night? No doubt word has gotten to the king,” Philippe de Lorraine whispered harshly. “All the evidence is pinned against you. The only way out of your situation is through death.”
I leaned in closer to him and whispered, “I don’t believe I had much of a choice. It would have looked more suspicious if I didn’t come.”
“You should have just left Versailles like I told you to,” he snapped.
Before I could even think of a response, I heard loud footsteps approach me from behind, so I bit my tongue.
“Mademoiselle de Dumont,” a firm, low voice spoke.
Just a moment before, all the aristocrats were participating in idle chatter, but at the sound of my name, the room grew eerily quiet. All I could hear was the pounding within my chest, and my cheeks felt warm, no doubt a bright shade of red visible to the many eyes that burned into my skin.
I looked to Philippe, someone who I considered a good friend, for strength, but he merely adverted his gaze from mine and hung his head low. I tried my best to compose myself, taking in a deep breath before turning around to see Alexandre Bontemps, the respected and feared valet of the king. He was looking at me with a pained expression as two guards stood behind him.
“I believe you know why we are here,” Bontemps said before the two guards rushed toward me, grabbing each of my arms. I thrashed and screamed, but their grips only tightened.
“I didn’t do it! I was framed!” I cried. “You have to believe me!”
As they dragged me away, my eyes set on Madame de Montespan who was sitting at one of the tables. I gave her a pleading look, but she turned her head towards the group of girls she was playing cards with.
“By the way she’s screaming you would think she was innocent,” Montespan said, a giggle escaping her lips.
Inside the dark dungeon of Versailles, I was left to wonder why I ever trusted her?
*** Every woman in the palace of Versailles had hoped to win over the affection of Louis XIV, as did I, and could anyone blame me? He was the sun that shone through the palace, and I would have done anything to stand next to the sun, no matter how bright it was.
I had been at court for years, living a life like many did where I simply spent all my money on clothing and fine jewelry, so I could gain it all back through gambling, only to spend it all over again. Philippe taught me how to do this best, and even without a single glance from the king— or any man for that matter— I was perfectly content with my life. At least, that was until I encountered Françoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart, Marquise de Montespan.
I often prayed in the chapel at night when everyone was sleeping, because I preferred to do things in private. I never spent much time there, but one night as I was leaving the chapel, I came in contact with two men.
One of which was Louis XIV and the other Alexandre Bontemps. The king wore a long, cream-colored nightgown, and Bontemps seemed to be in his sleepwear as well. To see Louis dressed in this way came as a shock to me, for I had never seen him in anything but glamorous fashions, usually in the color blue.
“Sire,” I said, bowing.
“You will go to your rooms and not speak of this to anyone. Is that understood?” Bontemps spoke in an unyielding tone.
I nodded immediately and quickly walked past them, but when I was only a few steps away, a voice spoke up from behind me.
“Wait,” it said.
As I turned around slowly, Bontemps whispered, “Your Majesty…”
“What are you doing at the chapel so late at night?” Louis inquired.
“I came to pray, sire.”
“What do you pray for?”
“For me, for my friends, for you… and for the glory of France”
Louis paused for a few seconds, and in that moment, I felt like I had been standing there for what seemed like an eternity.
“Will you come to pray with me?” he finally asked.
“Your majesty that would not be wise,” Bontemps objected.
“I see no issue with it,” Louis replied before directing his attention toward me. “Will you accept my offer?”
“I cannot refuse, sire.”
Once we were in the chapel, I could see the dark circles under Louis’s bloodshot eyes.
“What do you wish to pray for, sire?” I asked.
“I haven’t slept in days,” he said, clearly distraught. “Prominent people are being murdered, poisoned within my court. I believe that someone wants me dead, and they are killing those who are closest to me. I wish to pray that Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie will find whoever is doing this so that not only I, but everyone within my court can live peacefully once again.”
I had never anticipated that I would one day pray by His Majesty’s side. Maybe I was a bit selfish, but the thought that I could somehow ease Louis’s mind filled me with light.
Afterward, I went straight to my room, not uttering a word to anyone— not even Philippe— but someone must have seen us together that night because Madame de Montespan approached me the next morning. Why would she want to speak with someone she had never been interested in before? I knew, surely, it was only because that very someone had tried to take something she believed to be hers.
“Magdelaine de Dumont,” she said as if it were a demand.
I curtseyed, keeping eye contact with the lady before me.
“I do believe that we have not yet properly introduced ourselves. As I am sure you are aware, I am the Marquise de Montespan.”
I gave her no response.
“I wish for the two of us to become friends,” she said, forcing a smile.
I had not expected such a request to come from the mistress of the king, but I bowed my head nonetheless. “I am honored, madame,” I said. “But why with me?”
“I heard good things about you from the Chevalier de Lorraine tonight while I was at the same table as him,” she replied. “He even said that you have exceptional skill at playing cards, that he taught you everything you know, and if I may be so bold, perhaps we could play together sometime.”
“I would very much like that,” I said.
“Ah, good to hear. Come to me next time you wish to play, and we’ll see just how good you really are.” She walked away, and I rolled my eyes.
Later that day, I was looking for Philippe, planning to tell him about the weird encounter I had with the Marquise. He was at one of the tables, gambling as he usually was, so I walked toward him.
It wasn’t until I heard a voice say, “Care to join us in a game of cards?” that I realized Montespan was at the same table. I sat down before her and joined their game. That’s when the strangest thing happened: I enjoyed it— no, not the game, but rather her presence. I found myself smiling at her witty remarks toward Philippe, and I found her confidence admirable; I was starting to understand why Louis had taken such a liking to her.
From that point on, I guess you could say we had seemingly grown close. We often played cards and walked around the gardens together. I continued to pray with Louis in the chapel, but she chose to ignore it because that was the extent of our relationship; the king seemed to have little interest in me romantically, as he was still attentive as ever to Montespan.
Considering how close we had gotten, it was no surprise that the king took notice. One day, Louis approached our table and asked if he and I could speak for a moment alone. Of course, I could not refuse the king; however, this left Montespan feeling bitter, and— I had not realized it at the time— our relationship had turned sour.
Louis asked me to help him make preparations for Montespan’s upcoming birthday. I did as the king had asked, and on the day, everything seemed to have gone smoothly until dinner time.
Everyone was provided drinks and before Montespan took a sip, one of her ladies stopped her.
“Perhaps I should taste it first,” the lady whispered to Montespan.
“I don’t think that’ll be necessary this time.”
“Madame, I insist. With everything that’s been happening lately, I don’t think we should risk it.”
The lady took a sip and there was a brief pause before the cup fell from her hand, the glass shattering to pieces as both the cup and the lady’s body hit the floor. Gasps and screams were heard throughout the room before Bontemps yelled at one of the guards, “Somebody get the doctor!”
Bontemps then directed his attention to everyone in the room, “Everyone go to your rooms. No one is permitted to leave the premises.”
I, like everyone else, did as I was told, but I knew I would be one of the suspects.
Not many hours after I had been held in my cell, I was visited by Louis. I had been sitting with my back against the wall, but at the sight of him, I ran to the bars that separated us and fell to my knees.
“Get up,” his voice boomed over me. I did as I was told and stood up.
“Why did you do it?” he continued.
“Sire, I had no part in—”
“You are a murderer!” he interrupted. “You attempted to poison your friend, the Marquise de Montespan, at her own birthday party.”
“I was framed,” I said in a strained voice. “Your Majesty, you have to believe me.”
With that, Louis looked me in the eyes for the last time, and his expression seemed to have softened— or maybe, I just saw what I wanted to see— and he left without another word.
I wasn’t sure how long I had been sitting in that cell, but it felt like it had been weeks before I heard word from one of the guards that I would be executed within the following days. I had come to terms with the fact that there was nothing I could do, and I would have done anything to forget my last encounter with Louis.
I had been told that Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie would be the one who would escort me to my public execution, so when he finally opened my cell door, I knew my fate had been sealed.
“Mademoiselle de Dumont, under the king’s order, you are free to go,” he said. He must have thought that I deserved further explanation, so he continued, “I found the woman who was behind all of the poisonings. Her name is Catherine Deshayes Monvoisin. She kept a record of all the people who used her… services. Your name was not on her lists while Madame de Montespan’s was, so the king confronted her. She confessed to using dark magic to keep his favor and confessed to framing you for the murder of her lady.”
“Did she say why she did this to me?” I asked.
“She did not.”
“What is to happen to Madame?”
“She was already stripped of her title as Marquise, but she will remain within the palace.”
“His Majesty is too kind,” I said before quickly making my way toward my room, ignoring everyone who tried to talk to me. I packed my necessities and headed out the door. I ran into Philippe who exclaimed, “Magdelaine, I am so excited to see that you’re alive! Wait, where are you going?”
“As far away from Versailles as possible.”