"Pick a star,"
he said from his upside-down position in the fireplace. "Any star, I'll
be right back." The Doctor, her fireplace man, disappeared into that other
world that Reinette had only glimpsed.
She dashed to the largest window in her room, standing on tip-toe to pick out her destination. She considered her options carefully.
By what method do I select a heavenly orb, she mused silently, I know nothing about them. Perhaps by colour? Or brightness? Or charm?
To make up her mind, Reinette d'Etoile breathed on the cool glass until it was thoroughly fogged. She then drew a heart with her finger and chose a tiny dot in the centre.
"There," she said aloud, "that is the one." If she closed one eye, then she could clearly see that the star she had chosen sat directly over the third chimney of the guardhouse at the end of the palace's drive. She couldn't even begin to imagine what secrets it might hold, her glimpse into the Doctor's mind had revealed so many terrifying and wonderful things it seemed as she tried to grasp each one it slid from her memory or became confused with something else.
Reinette shook her head to clear it and instead set about packing.
"What to wear, among
the stars?" She flung open the doors to her wardrobe. Certainly something
less elaborate than normal court attire. She considered the Doctor's companion,
the pretty but plain girl: Rose. She had been dressed in
britches and undergarments, as far as Reinette could make out. Obviously fashions
changed. This was Paris, where someone's standing depended much upon their ability
to move with the season's choice of clothes, but to walk around so brazenly
naked? She considered her wardrobe: all the dresses she had made herself, each
embroidered petal or sewn pearl and she very definitely closed the doors.
"I am sure the Doctor will have something for me to wear."
She imagined the pair of
them in the Doctor's TARDIS, yes the TARDIS had been strong in his memories,
dancing endlessly as they had at the Yew Tree Ball. She giggled at the thought
of the Banana Daiquiri and wondered if such things would exist where she was
She crossed the room and sat at her desk, I cannot simply abandon Louis, poor man, she thought as she pulled a quill and inkpot from their customary place. For all the people in Court he is a lonely soul, although not as lonely as my Angel.
She recognised in herself, as an expert in these matters, the warm all over glow of new love. True she had known the Doctor since early childhood and on every occasion when he had burst upon her life he had saved her from the hideous creatures that ticked and tocked under her bed. She had loved him as a saviour, then as a mystery, now he was a lonely boy in her mind and her heart. She clung to that feeling, imagining what it would be like to help the Doctor who had helped so many. She began the letter, crafting each word with the love that Louis deserved, the love that he had shown her:
"My Dearest Louis "
* * *
Reinette sat upon the end of her bed, gazing into the dark, cold, fireplace. On her desk, the letter to Louis lay sealed, the inkpot and pen back in their place. By her feet a small leather bag contained a few possessions that Reinette felt she could not bear to be without, even if she were to travel among the stars. Her eyes stared hard into the cold darkness of the fireplace. She had tried valiantly to find the mechanism by which the Doctor had revolved the fireplace, but try as she might she could find nothing. Of the lines which marked the shape by which the fireplace, mantel, wall and floor moved she could find no trace, no divide to suggest the secret the fireplace held. When the fireplace had been moved in its entirety, Madame De Pomapdour had specified that the mechanism within be moved with it. The foreman of the workers had asked if they were moving the correct fireplace, because no mechanism could be found. Even the gap through which the Doctor had first spoken to her, all those years ago, remained a blank, soot-stained wall.
There was a polite knock on her chamber door. Reinette composed herself, hiding the letter swiftly in a drawer of her desk.
"Enter, please," she said, hiding the emotion in her voice. Louis XV, King of France strode in, every bit the magnificent regent. "Your majesty," Reinette greeted, bobbing a curtsy.
"Majesty? You haven't called me that in a long time," the King laughed and kissed his mistress. "I came to tell you that we are taking dinner."
"The guests from the ball," Louis replied, "to celebrate surviving those creatures or automatons, whatever. You were right: we are French and we should be proud." The King paused, looking at the toe of his brilliantly polished and finely jewelled shoe. "You could also bring your friend, the Doctor, if you wish. After all, he saved your life; our lives."
"Louis," Reinette sighed, "I cannot say I am sorry that I love another. Please understand that he is different to any other man I have known. But he has yet to return from his other world and I would wait for him."
Louis had spent many years learning the art of diplomacy, of hiding one's feelings. Reinette saw all that come to bear and yet still saw the pain in his eyes. He nodded curtly then: "He must be a fine man."
"He is more than a man," Reinette said, her face as composed as she could keep it.
"Do not wait too long," Louis managed a smile. "I will have a servant send some food up to you."
"Thank you, Louis," she kissed him, briefly and squeezed his hand. The King of France took a deep breath, marshalling the dignity of his birthright and marched stoically from her chambers.
Reinette watched him go, then sat at the end of the bed and resumed her vigil.
* * *
Madame De Pomadour awoke to the smell of burning wood. Her eyes lit up and all trace of tiredness and sleep were forgotten as she leaped from her bed, disturbing Louis' slumber. But she could see, before she even reached it, that the fireplace was cold and dead. She looked to the window and saw, beneath the crimson and lavender of the early sunrise, a groundsman, sweeping leaves and trimmed branches into a bonfire which crackled and spat and wafted sweet scent across the gardens to her window.
A single tear traced its way down Reinette's cheek and she reached across to the ornate bell pull that hung by her bed. She tugged it and though she did not hear the bell, she knew even now a maid would be scurrying to her room.
Barely a few minutes had passed before a red-faced lady-in-waiting knocked briskly upon the door and bobbed a respectful curtsy.
"Build a fire for me, please," Reinette said stiffly.
"Is Madame cold?"
"Yes, very," Reinette snapped and the maid hurried to place wood upon the grate. Soon a hearty fire, too warm for this clement autumn morning, was burning merrily in the grate. From her desk drawer, Reinette took the letter she had written so long ago, bidding farewell to her King and lover. "When he comes for me," she decided aloud, "I shall write a new letter."
"Pardon, Madame, are you speaking to me?"
"No. Thank you, you may go," Reinette said, a new strength to her voice. She stepped smartly forward and knelt down by the fireplace. "Doctor?" She called, tentatively. "Are you there?"
"I am here, my Reinette."
Reinette whirled, but it was Louis, rising from his sleep. She flung the letter into the fire and joined him in bed again.
"Why is there a fire lit? It's warm as hell in here," Louis grumbled as he curled into his mistress' arms.
"I like fires. A fireplace with a fire has life, has hope, don't you think?" But Louis had fallen asleep again. Madame de Pompadour, mistress to King Louis XV watched the letter blacken and curl.
One day I will write another
Written by J Stebbing for fun