Night was descending upon the Winthrop home. Elora surveyed the living room, which was four hours ago immaculate, but now was strewn with toys. With three children she could never keep the house clean. She was about to pick up a purple stuffed hippo, when she heard the baby begin to cry; he was due for a changing. She turned to look at his husband in the kitchen. The moment he heard the cry he hunched over the sink and scrubbed the pan with increased vigor, determined not to change another diaper tonight.
So she headed upstairs to the nursery. Once she got the baby settled and back to sleep she went to check on her other kids. Her seven year old was sleeping already with his head off the pillow and a leg hanging off the side of the bed. She went in the room to straighten him out, hopefully without waking him. Success!
Now she walked to her daughter's room. Before she opened the door she knew her eight year old was still awake from the thumping coming from the room. Indeed her daughter was still hopping about the room in her lilac pajamas and pointed princess hat.
A moment later the child ran at her to hug her. "Mummy, Mummy, tell me the story!"
"Again? Don't you ever tire of it?"
Her daughter hopped into the bed and she helped tuck her in. Sitting at the foot of the bed she asked her princess, "Where do you want me to start tonight?"
"From the beginning!"
"One night I had a dream of a young woman as common in the world she lived as a drop in the ocean. She thought she could control everything in her life, but at nineteen she found out sorely that was not the case. Hurt and broken on the inside she went to bed praying to God for help. Her prayer was answered forthwith.
"She woke in a world so different to what she had known. What had been the present was now the future and what was history was now her present. She was in 17th century France, among royals and nobility, living at the most beautiful palace in the world. When she befriended the King of France that was when her life truly began…"
It was a bright August morning when Lady Thérèse, Marquise de Sévigné walked through her childhood home. The servants were all busy with preparations for King Louis' impending arrival in a few short days. Every year, like clockwork, her brother, the Duc de Chartres held a ball in honor of their king's birthday. In the years since her mother and sister-in-law died she had been the one to come to Chartres and prepare the household for the party of the season.
She could not even spare a moment today to attend to her children. She could do nothing with the noise they made throughout the house, so she sent every single one of them out into town for the morning. The only reason they traveled with her here was because the king asked to see them every year. He was very keen on children, especially those of Bourbon blood.
Late last night the servants had finished preparing the king's chamber to his desired specifications, but it was she who would do the final check today to ensure everything was as it should be. King Louis' personal effects had arrived yesterday; they were many, but his chamber was spacious.
It had been a longstanding tradition for the king to visit Chartres during his birthday week. For the past ten years, he ended his country visit at her home, Chêneforêt Manoir.
Her husband, Cesaire, had found great favor with the king and was always found by his side. Though it kept him from home more months than she desired, she knew it was an honor to be so indispensable to the king.
Luce was only a few hours journey from Chartres. Living so near one another had brought her great joy. It also proved to be beneficial when Christophe's wife, Lady Françoise, fell ill and died nearly ten years ago. The youngest of Thérèse's nephews often stayed with her in Luce, being tutored with her children.
As she was unlocking the door to the king's chamber she heard the sound of a child's laughter within. She could not imagine how or why one of the children would have gone in. She had thought they went to town with the elders.
She opened the door expecting to scold her youngest, Madeline. Instead she came upon an empty room. The laughter, or now she thought the better of it, was it weeping, had ceased. Now she was not sure if she had imagined the sounds. Everything was untouched, except for the bed, which looked a bit rumpled.
She knew one of the children must be in the room. Thérèse saw the curtain move slightly and it was not from a draught. She stepped lightly over to the window and pulled back the curtain swiftly.
What she saw was no child of hers! It was a demon! It screamed when she did. Its appearance was frightening. Its lips and eyes were black as night. Its tussled curls were an unnatural violet and black color, making each curl look like a serpent. It had metal chains hanging all over its body, like it escaped from a deep circle of hell. Between its screeching and speaking in tongues she was certain it could be nothing purer than a demon, though she had never before seen one.
As it moved about the room like a caged animal it began to throw things at her. She had been frozen in place by terror until then. She ran out the door and locked it from the outside. The demon was trapped at present and she was relieved to have escaped with her life and not have been possessed. It kept banging at the door and shrieking in tongues.
Oh where was her brother? She screamed for a servant, any servant. A footman came running. "Go fetch the priest at once!" Thérèse screamed at him. "Tell him there is dire need for him here!–Find, his grace, the duc, and send him to me straight away!"
Not minutes later her dear brother Christophe came bounding around the corner from the main hall.
"What is all the commotion here? Have you seen a mouse again?"
"Come here quickly! There is great trouble! A demon has found its way into this house, but I was able to lock it in that bedchamber. I have sent for the priest."
"Sister, are you certain of what you saw?" He leaned up against the bedchamber door to listen. "I hear not a noise within."
"You should have heard it howling only moments ago. No one could mistake that snarling beast for anything, but a demon, I assure you."
He seemed to doubt her. "Perhaps, I should just have a look."
"No, do not go in until the priest comes. It could steal your soul and possess you."
Then he heard the banging of furniture and shattering of glass within. He was a surprised, for he had been nearly certain Thérèse had just been seeing things. Now he was indeed curious as to what was within. "Thérèse, I must go in case it means to burn down my home. Who knows what destruction it has planned. I have my pistol. My safety is ensured."
"No Christophe!" She begged fervently, but could not dissuade him. He was so headstrong.
"Be certain to lock the door again, once I have gone through."
Christophe Morlaix took a breath and cautiously entered the bedchamber. Gripping the pistol tightly, he looked about the room. He saw no demon, only upturned furniture and a broken window. All was still. He could not imagine where it could be hiding.
He was not even able to catch a glimpse of it when it lunged from the inside of the half open wardrobe and smashed him over the head with something hard. Everything went black for more than a few seconds.
Next he knew he was picking himself off the floor and his pistol was no longer in his possession. Across the room the demon stood by the broken window, fumbling to unlatch it, his pistol in hand.
"Le prêtre vient," he called out shakily. He estimated warning that the priest was on his way was the best thing to say, though he knew he should not interact with it.
It turned about, appearing terrified. It breathed heavily as it pointed the pistol at him with a shaky hand. If it were a demon what use would it have with his earthly weapon?
"Don't move or I'll shoot!" The demon was speaking in English.
Now there was something familiar about it. Even its voice was that of a child. Perhaps that was what it intended so as to distract him; force him to let down his guard. Demons were cunning. It was really beginning to look more and more human.
"Hey, freak, I said stay back! What, did you escape from a renaissance fair or something?"
"What are you?" he questioned in English.
"Hey, I'll ask the questions!"
"You have a name?" He felt he might already know the answer.
"You must be nuts! You don't even know the name of the girl you've kidnapped?"
"Nuts?" He honestly did not understand her words. "I have kidnapped no one. This is my home. My sister found you here. You are the intruder."
"Listen, I was in my bedroom last night and woke up here in this one, so you can't tell me you didn't kidnap me. Someone must have brought me here."
"What is your name?" His heart was pounding waiting for an answer.
"You first," came the pert demand.
"Lord Christophe Morlaix, Duc de Chartres."
It appeared quite startled and dropped its aim with the pistol. "How can you know that name?" Its tone had changed from shrieking panic to deepening fear.
"It is my given name."
"No. That's the name of a character in a bedtime story my mother used to tell me."
"Your mother?" he edged on.
"Yeah, Doctor Elora Roux-Winthrop."
His knees buckled at the girl's words. He had not heard that name spoken in so many years. He suddenly saw the being standing before him in an entirely different light. It was a girl. Her face was not black from the smolders of Hell, but merely smudged that shade from sleeping with excess make-up. Her clothes, though frightening, were similar in fashion to what Elora once wore from her homeland. This girl must be from the future too!
"You have nothing to fear. Elora Roux is a dear friend of mine."
"No, Chris Morlaix was a friend of the queen in my mom's story."
"Are you telling me, she told you of her time with us, but led you to believe it was all a children's story?"
"She didn't lead me to believe anything; it is just a story. You are obviously a figment of my imagination…but I honestly never imagined you to be so old and with all this facial hair."
Her comment on how unforgiving the years had been was overlooked. "It was not merely a story of fancy, mon cher. Your mother is Queen Elora and what she told you really happened." She shook her head at his words. "Yes. It is truth and since you do not already know, I must tell you, this is the year 1691 and you, mon cher, are in France."
She rolled her eyes back and lowered the pistol. "You're delusional. Time travel is a fantasy. Time travel is impossible. You and all this around me must be a dream." She seemed to have settled it in her head. She was in complete denial. "This is 1691, yeah right! Is that why you're dressed so funny?"
He straightened up and adjusted his cuffs. "I am dressed as I should be. It is you whose attire is out of place.–How is it you have such singular hair color?"
"I sprayed it in last night for the concert. It washes out.–Now stop trying to distract me.–If you're not a dream you're a hallucination. Someone must have slipped a hallucinogenic drug into my drink at the club last night. Maybe this is what LSD does to a person." She poked at him. "That's weird. Could I feel a hallucination?"
Christophe grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. "Please understand this is real."
She shrugged his hands off her and stepped away from him. "Whether this is real or not, how do I know you're who you say you are? You have any identification on you? You could just be a weirdo pretending to be Chris Morlaix."
"Identification?" He was puzzled for a moment. "I wear my signet ring with the Chartres coat of arms." He removed the ring from his middle finger and reached his hand out to give it to her. She took it in a quick, nervous motion.
"How am I supposed to know if this is real? Mom never told me what Chris' coat of arms looked like." She tapped the ring. "Dude, is this solid gold?"
"Wow. If you cashed this in I bet you'd make a mint."
"Do you believe in me now? Elora always trusted me. Will you do the same?"
"Let's call this a trial. I'll go along with what you say, but I'm not convinced."
There came a knock at the door, which startled them both. "Brother," spoke Thérèse from the hall. "Is all well?"
"I must go calm my sister's nerves. She took one look at you and was certain you were the Devil." She moved to follow him out. "No, please wait here, mon cher. I think you should clean up before you shock anyone further. While I am gone you can use the washbasin on the table to clean your face and hair."
She lifted her brow defiantly. "Fine," she mumbled. "This is such a weird dream. Maybe I'm in a coma and that's why this dream is so life-like." She poked his arm.
The girl still believed she was dreaming, but at least she was calm. Christophe met with his sister in the hall. "All is well. In fact, I have a great surprise that will delight you, but first you must send a servant for a robe and a fresh pitcher of water."
"Strange request. Are we to clothe this messenger of Hell?"
"It is nothing so dramatic."
Just as the water and robe came, he saw the priest riding up the drive.
"Oh calamity! The priest! Thérèse, you must send him away. Tell him you were mistaken."
"Just trust my words."
"Very well." Though she trusted her brother, she looked to the bedchamber door with a worried look. Thérèse then went bounding down the hall to send the priest away. Chris knocked at the bedchamber door. "I have something for you to wear and more water if you need it."
She opened the door slightly and grabbed both from him, kicking the door closed with her foot. He expected her to be ready before Thérèse return, but such was not the case.
More than half an hour later Thérèse reappeared. "I am ready to be delighted, Christophe. The priest was most irritated with me."
He knocked at the door once again. "Are you ready to come out?"
"Yeah, yeah," she mumbled from within.
The door opened slowly and what came into focus left them both stunned. She was the image of her mother. Her red hair, fair skin, and freckled face made him weak in the knees. The blue robe gave a sparkle to her deep blue eyes.
Christophe spoke grandly, "Sister, might I introduce to you to Elora Roux's daughter."
"You know, Chris, I have a name," she began in broken French, "I'm Elle Roux-Winthrop."
Elle extended her hand to shake with his sister. Thérèse began to weep and pulled the girl into her arms, without saying a word.
"You speak French?" demanded Chris, feeling silly for speaking English for so long.
"Yes, but I haven't spoken it in a few years.–I don't think I've ever spoken another language in a dream before…"
"Dearest Elle," Thérèse sniffled. "I loved your mother so dearly. I am so glad you are come from the future! How did you leave your mother?"
"Umm, let me think. Last I saw her was yesterday afternoon, before I went out to setup for the concert. She was getting ready to go out to a dinner banquet with my father."
"Yes. Peter Winthrop."
"She remarried. Well, I suppose she would. It only feels odd because King Louis is still alive and well. Her new husband in an honorable gentleman to be sure. How many children has she?"
"I have two younger brothers. Wesley's fifteen and Charlie is eight."
"Only two more."
"Trust me, that's one brother too many."
"I fear, dear Elle, the Lord sent you to us at the most inopportune time," said Thérèse grievously. "The king is soon to arrive for a two week visit for his birthday celebrations."
"No," contradicted Chris. "I believe she came to us just as God wanted. The king is after all her mother's husband."
"We could not very well present her at court like this and I am certain he will be anxious to meet her. The king knew Elora best, perhaps he is the ideal person to care for her daughter."
They looked her over. "What should we do first?" asked Christophe.
"Well, we had best feed and clothe her. She was delivered into our hands and is the daughter of our dearest friend.–Elle, I know we have just met and this must all be very frightening for you, but would you feel comfortable calling me Tante and my brother Oncle? For you see your mother and I were as close as sisters and once she married Louis we were cousins. Please consider us family and this your home."
Elle smiled. Both Thérèse and Chris looked so longingly at her. Though she did not have any inclination to decline, looking into Thérèse's eyes she did not think she could have refused even if she wanted to. "All right, Tante. Thank you."
"Christophe, how shall we explain her to the children? No matter where she comes from she is still the issue of one of France's queens; yet how can we say such since Elora was presumed dead long before this child was born?"
"Excellent point; we cannot tell of her true mother."
"How can we not though? Elle is the mirror image of Elora. Anyone who knew Queen Elora will no doubt see the resemblance."
"What if we keep her a Roux, but say she is the issue of a different mother. She could pass for a niece. It is possible for a niece to favor an aunt in features. Just as my Louise has your looks."
"I believe that could be plausible. Yet everyone knew Elora to be orphaned. How can we now say she had a sister living?"
"We can say she was a younger sister that was left with relatives in the Americas. It is such a great distance, no one would be able to disprove it."
They turned to the wide-eyed girl. "Good heavens, Elle, what it the matter?"
"Hearing you guys speak French is like hearing a Jamaican speak English."
"What say you?"
"What I mean to say is that hearing you both speaking French is disorienting. The only person I have ever heard speak French so fluently is my mother, so the pronunciation of every word I know and delivery of every phrase is completely dependent on Mom's proficiency. Now hearing you two, with such thick accents, speaking with greater ease than Mom ever did, it is challenging to follow."
"I understand," spoke Thérèse with clarity. "We shall try to be more sensitive to your struggles and explain it to the family as well."
"I really appreciate it. I'm so glad that being in this situation I am here with you two. This is a shocking turn of events, but having family friends around, who know about the time-travel; where I do not have to explain myself and defend the truth of it…it is all such a comfort. I can't imagine how hard it must have been for Mom, having to convince those who needed an explanation and at the same time having to keep the truth from so many friends. It must have been maddening for her. She's a stronger person than I ever knew."
"Indeed," agreed Christophe. "Elora was the best of us. I was never so glad until I knew the truth of her."
"What a foggy memory you have brother." Thérèse tapped his arm. "It was I who was glad, you were reluctant to believe her. I remember you throwing around the words blasphemy and sorcery."
"Too particular a memory you have, Sister. That may have been my initial reaction, but I came around quickly."
"All right Christophe, remember it as you wish." She laughed.
"Christophe, before another thing is decided we must get Elle some attire before the children return.–Come, Elle, let us search the attic for the trunk of Simone's old gowns. We were saving them for Madeline when she grew old enough, but you can make use of them for the time being."
Elle followed Thérèse through the old castle. This dream was not at all how she imagined King Louis' world as a child, but now that she was moving through this house she felt the truth in the story coming to life in an awesome way she never imagined. She was actually in Chartres Castle. This is where the Comtesse danced in a butterfly gown and where Chris tried his hardest to win her heart.
Perhaps this was not a dream.
Elle was still reeling over today's events, having a hard time fathoming being in the 17th century. Time travel had always seemed to her something out of a fantasy novel. Her interest had never swayed to such ideas.
When she first woke, she took a deep breath and was glad her headache had passed. Before she even opened her eyes she had already started arranging in her head the things she was going to do that morning. Then as soon as she did open her eyes she found herself looking up at a stone ceiling. The rest was a blur. She remembered looking about the gothic room and panicking. She knew what happened someone at the nightclub had given her a roofie and kidnapped her! She was a prisoner to some psychopath! She wept wildly, but just as she was going for the door and woman entered. She was dressed like a character at a Renaissance Fair and seemed even more scared to see Elle than she was. To beat all she was screaming in French as she ran out and locked the door behind her. Thank goodness Chris came in and clarified things or she might have climbed out a broken window by the bed sheets by now.
Why did her mom not tell her? Mom should have prepared her for this possible eventuality. In all the years she told her stories of Versailles and Louis, why could she never once mention it was her story she was telling? She should have said, "Time travel is real! This is what happened to me when I was a teenager. Better stay brushed up on your French, Elle, in case you take a trip to the 17th century yourself." The comtesse was from another time, but her Mom never said her name was Elora. She gave her whatever name Elle asked for. Usually she chose a name for among her dolls.
Elle really should have been more scared being among strangers in a different time in foreign country, but she was more pissed at how it was inconveniencing her life. She was supposed to meet up with Holly and Jeremy at the music store in town for some sheet music today. Now that she was here, were they missing her there? Had time stopped there or was it continuing on without her?
They went up two flights to the attic. They walked through a maze of dusty, sooty trunks. Thérèse was particularly interested in the two trunks with a floral inlay. "I will have a servant take these down to your room, but for now let us choose a gown in your size for you to wear now, just to keep up appearances."
Thérèse unlatched the trunk and pulled out a pink floor length dress first, but she shook her head looking at it and then to her. Elle was grateful, since pink was probably her least favorite color. The trunk was full of dresses and nothing else.
"Tante Thérèse, I don't like wearing dresses. Is there perhaps some other style with pants I can wear?"
"Elle, I am sorry, but ladies only wear gowns. Such a style you are accustomed to is not only unattempted here, but people would take offense."
"Oh." Bummer, she thought! "Well how about that one." She pointed to a black lame silk gown.
"Oh no, that was what Simone wore while she was in mourning for her mother.–I think this forget-me-not blue gown will do for today.–Elle, you go through that chest to your left and try to find a pair of shoes that fits you, while I try to find you all the appropriate undergarments."
While Elle went through the custom-made shoes of various sizes, she watched Thérèse in awe. Merely kneeling on an attic floor, going through dusty clothes, she had so much elegance and grace. Even though she had multiple children and had to have been in her forties she still looked half her age; with her beautiful brown hair, smooth skin, and a lithe figure. Mom really did not exaggerate. To get by in this place she was terrified to think she might be required to become just as genteel as Thérèse. It was not that she hated the idea of trying, but she feared such accomplishment was beyond her capability.
When Thérèse had gathered all the clothes needed they traveled downstairs and to a bedroom that was to be hers. Thérèse was going to assist her in dressing, but Elle insisted she could dress herself. She was sixteen after all. As soon as Thérèse closed the door and she looked at the pile of foreign apparel she called Thérèse right back.
The corset was the worst; she had to lace it super tight because all of the dresses were just a bit too small. Elle could not help it. She had a healthy appetite and a full figure; so what if she was not even close to a size-0. The dress fit, but she had to practice sitting a few times. Deep breaths were impossible. If she had to bend over to tie her shoelace she would probably be laying on her head before she even got hold of the lace. Thérèse assured her they would take out the gowns tomorrow. She felt like Juliet or Lady Guinevere. She worried having to wear a dress was going to be just the beginning of her mortifications here. She was glad her friends could not see her now wearing a frilly princess' gown.
The maid entered to fix her hair with pins and ribbons. Her name was Aimée and Thérèse said if she liked her she would be her personal servant from then on. The girl did not speak much. She was about her age and had fair features. Aimée began fashioning her curly hair. She pinned it up so only a few of her curls touched her shoulders, the rest was twisted and braided atop her head. Elle was happy with the results so agreed to keep her.
Now that she had nothing to color her hair with she would have to make do with her natural red hair color. It was vain, but she hated her hair color ever since she could remember. She always hated the attention it brought her. Everyone mentioned something about her hair color in one way or another. Between the adult's unwanted compliments and the kids jarring taunts, she would rather have been bald.
Chris must have been eagerly waiting outside, for his knock at the door seemed full of excitement. Thérèse allowed him entrance. His mouth dropped open as he looked Elle over.
"So Brother, what do you think of our niece?"
"Elle, I was correct when I first laid eyes on you. You are every bit as beautiful as your mother. So much so I can hardly tell you apart.–Now you are well suited to meet the children."
"I never pictured you two as parents, but it makes sense."
"Luncheon will be at noon, mon cher. They just returned home while you were dressing. I told the servants the entire family would be eating together, even the younger ones, since we have a new addition to the family joining us." He gave her a wink.
"They come home from school for lunch?"
"School? No, they only went to the village for the morning. Education here is not as you are accustomed to. The young ones do not school from home. We have an exceptionally proficient scholar who instructs them in the home."
"I can't wait to meet them. You know, I did my share of babysitting and not just with my little brothers, everyone in the neighborhood had me watching their kids. So if you guys ever need a night out, let me know and I'll watch the little tykes for you." Chris and Thérèse smiled, but said nothing. Chris went ahead to prepare the children for Elle's introduction. They adjourned downstairs to the dining hall. Thérèse was giving her the quick tour in French as they passed by rooms, so Elle was probably getting every fourth word. She did take notice when Thérèse mentioned a chapel. "In the house?" Elle questioned. "Where else." was her only reply. Elle made a mental note to take a look in that room the next time she had a free minute.