Hello everyone! I hope you're all managing to stay sane and healthy despite all this election nonsense and a certain virus going on a comeback tour, I'm doing well enough. I'm in my first semester of college for those of you who don't know, and that's going fine, but I can't deny that online school is tedious and exhausting at this point. Other than that, I've been playing quite a bit of Crusader Kings III, which is quite fun, I recommend it! In any case, this isn't my place to rant about how I'm bored and have nowhere to go, you're here for chapter nine of Duchesse d'Anjou, and I shall oblige.

Duchesse d'Anjou.

Act I.

The Shadow of The Sun King.

Chapter IX.

The Inheritance Plot.

Alix and I had left France nearly a year ago, sent to become the Governess of Louisiana and to remain an ocean apart from my Anne. Now, after two months at sea on the way there, six months or so reigning in Nouvelle-Orleans, and another two months on the return voyage, I was back at Versailles, and, needless to say, the first thing on my mind was finding out why I was recalled. Alix and I had just begun carrying out our grand visions for the colony, finding allies in the form of Marie Victoire de Wurttemberg and Jean-Baptiste de la Tour, even engaging in the gritty realities of politics as we made secret deals with the likes of the Marquis d'Esclignac and Pierre Maximilien de Peronne, everything was going so well, and now, here we were, back in France without a reason. I wanted answers and, at this point, I didn't particularly care about Philippe X or his royal protocol.

Yes, the man was King of France, but he was also the man who separated me from my lover, humiliated here, and sent me off to another continent to fill a position that my predecessor literally just failed in. Now, after finally seeing success, Philippe tore even that away from me, and I was not going to take it sitting down yet again, that isn't what Anne would have wanted from me. That isn't what Anne does want, regardless of what King Philippe may want, Anne is still her own person with her own ambitions and her own desires. Philippe can isolate her all he wants, Philippe can lecture her about religion in private all he wants, he will never turn her into the mere prop he desires. Anne will never love him, she isn't dead, she isn't a mere decoration for the King to show off, she is a young, beautiful, intelligent person and she is going to watch me succeed politically, ensuring that her personal sacrifice was not in vain.

"Uncle! Where is King Philippe?" I demanded, finding the Count of Auvergne in the Hall of Mirrors, heading to the Salon of Peace. Not everyone thought of my uncle as an honest person, many would even dismiss him as an opportunistic schmoozer, jumping from socially advantageous friendship to socially advantageous friendship, only the King remained consistent. The King, of course, was always a socially advantageous friend, even if King Philippe didn't like the Count nearly as much as my uncle would claim. To me, however, the Count of Auvergne couldn't lie, I was his favorite relative, a lovely niece, and he always doted on me when I was a little girl. He may not want to, but the Count will tell me exactly where to find the King.

"Yolande? Good, good. Philippe is just ahead in the salon, come." the Count beckoned, something both the Cypriot Princess and I found surprising. I always expected my uncle to give up and tell me where to go, but I didn't expect an open invitation, in fact, it seemed like the Count was bringing me to a meeting with King Philippe, a meeting where I was expected. It seemed like Alix was expected as well, or, at very least, my uncle wasn't willing to argue with me about that, quickly realizing I was in a very frustrated mood. I was a bit wary of my uncle at this point, what was this meeting in the Salon of Peace and why was I invited to it? Alix and I spoke quietly as passed the windows on one side and the mirrors on the other, both sides showing the same view of the gardens, trying to get a grasp for the situation. We were both, admittedly, somewhat out of the loop of Versailles politics, but we both spent enough time here before our colonial adventure to know that this was not how King Phlippe usually behaved, something else was going on here, and we were somehow involved.

"You don't think this is about our performances as governors, do you?" Alix whispered, asking a very good question. It was certainly possible that King Philippe wanted to talk to us about our behavior in Nouvelle-Orleans, especially given we prioritized our own ambitions over his profits, and we acted with more autonomy than we necessarily had, however, I didn't think that this was that meeting. Should such an audience occur, I would imagine that King Philippe would want to keep it secret, especially given the mutual secret over why I was appointed governess. I certainly didn't want to reveal the secret, after all, what I did was considered illegal and scandalous by the ignorant, judgmental, gossiping fools of Versailles, however, Philippe didn't want this news getting out either. The absolutist monarch of France, the Sun King, the patriarch of both the French state and the Bourbon dynasty, couldn't be seen as weak, and what is weaker than a man who couldn't please his own wife? Well, many things, but my perspective is not the typical French perspective.

"No, I don't think so. This meeting is too public, too many people not involved with our governance." I replied, comforting the both of us with the knowledge that this meeting involves far too many people to be anything negative against us. Philippe X appointed me as governor of Louisiana, a poor performance on my part reflects poorly on him for giving a woman such an opportunity, he doesn't want that embarrassment. Alix de Lusignan and I felt a little relieved at that explanation, but, as the Count of Auvergne prepared to open the grand double doors to the Salon of Peace, we were both nervous. I was all prepared to face King Philippe, to demand answers from him, but this meeting has completely blindsided me, and I'm not sure what will happen next.

As the doors opened, I truly was taken aback. My uncle ushered Alix and I into the Salon of Peace to find my father, my mother, who wore a soft yet sad smile on her face - it was only just now when I remembered my mother's pregnancy, when I realized that, in my own colonial adventure, I completely forgot about my potential little brother or sister - and the reminder of my mother's pregnancy wasn't even the most shocking thing in this room. My uncle stood at the opposite side of the table from my parents and, at the end of it, stood King Philippe X, unsurprisingly, but, next to him, stood Queen Anne. I couldn't hide my shocked expression, but Anne simply countered it with beautiful smile, a smile I thought I'd never see again. If my uncle's invitation hadn't already shocked me out of my once certain purpose, Anne's presence surely did. She looked as if she was free, as if she was never punished at all. Alix and I pensively took our place opposite of the King and Queen, both of us weary as a document was presented to us, displaying a table of relations of King Fernando III of Spain.

Alix and I looked over the document, starting, of course, with the tangled and inbred line leading to the King himself, but, then, we started looking outwards, realizing that this was a ranking of potential heirs, and we were finding some figures expected, others unexpected. One line, from a Habsburg brother of Fernando's great grandfather was eliminated due to a morganatic marriage with a commoner, eliminating a number of otherwise suitable heirs. The closest relative, then, was Duke Carlo Francesco of Parma, the son of Fernando's father's cousin, the Infanta Cristina Luisa. The Duke's two brothers are listed as well. This was to be expected, and this explains the series of letters being sent back and forth from Madrid to Parma last year, however, this chart had some other secrets. Another lineage comes from the marriage of my great grand parents, Philippe VIII and Infanta Maria Josefina of Spain. Their children, including King Philippe IX and Prince Louis, the Duke of Anjou, were the fathers of King Philippe X and Duke Louis-Joseph, respectively. Philippe X had a healthy array of children from his first wife, though all of which were already married, all to ensure political alliances and relations elsewhere, and even if they weren't married, Philippe would be rather disappointed to learn that his sons were actually ranked behind several Austrian candidates, featured in some of the other branches of this family tree. The most surprising part of this graph however, was that it left me as the closest unmarried female relative to Fernando III.

I glanced around the room, seeing my mother and father there, seeing my uncle here, and seeing Philippe X letting Anne and I be in the same room, and I knew what was going on. The Duke of Parma was some nineteen years old, still unmarried, and here I was, young, unmarried, and still young given I wasn't even seventeen yet. King Fernando III managed to find a way to keep Spain united and independent, free from either Austrian Habsburg or French Bourbon rulers, but Philippe X wanted to win influence over the Spanish Empire and get his alliance anyway, thus I, his cousin once removed, would guarantee that. That is why I was recalled then, to sacrifice my political career and be married off to a foreign King? I didn't dare look at my mother, I wasn't going to let her have this victory, I wasn't just going to stand by while I'm sold off to ensure someone else's political ambitions, not when I have my own.

"Hello Yolande, I am pleased with your performance in Louisiana, however, more pressing matters have come up. King Fernando III, working to deny us influence over Spain, has named Carlo Francesco Farnese as his heir. We believe that, working quickly, we can arrange a marriage between you and the Duke of Parma, achieving a link between Spain and France despite Fernando's best efforts." King Philippe explained, echoing what I already realized. Pleased with my progress in Louisiana he says, evidently not pleased enough to allow me to stay there and finding someone else to fulfill his Spanish ambition. I understood than an alliance with our southern neighbor would be hugely advantageous to France and transform the balance of power in Europe vastly in our favor, but this isn't the best way to do it, this only ensures one generation of Bourbon influence. I dread the thought of having children with an Italian nobleman I've never even met, but, say we have children - what is stopping the Austrians from marrying our children and ensuring they once again have influence over Spain? I would try and oppose it, sure, but this plan doesn't give me any actual power, it just makes me Carlo's wife as he becomes King Carlos II of Spain. I understand that this plan is in response to circumstances outside of our control, but that doesn't change the fact that, even with this plan, we've already lost the chance to win Spain.

"With all due respect, my liege, I believe Yolande would rather remain in her post as governess." Alix spoke when I failed to, overwhelmed by seeing my ambitions and hopes come crashing down all around me. I did everything to avoid being married off, even escaping to a different continent from my parents, but here I am, about to be handed over to some man I've never even seen purely because of political plan that won't even last longer than a single generation. I am reduced to a pawn in Philippe's games, he is to stubborn to accept that Fernando III and Spain simply didn't bend to his desires, so he is throwing me away in a desperate attempt to cling to his dreams of a Franco-Spanish union. I couldn't help but catch the guilt on Anne's face when Alix made her statement...a dark thought came across me. Perhaps this wasn't Philippe's idea, perhaps Anne came up with this as a way to redeem herself and step back into public life, but I quickly dismissed that, it was a mere dark thought, a paranoia over nothing. Anne loves me, she said it countless times, she even sacrificed herself for me, I knew the kind of woman she was, she wouldn't simply give up and undo all that, she was too stubborn to let Philippe win.

"I think, as a close friend of Yolande, that she sees the opportunity in this action, and that she recognizes, or, at least, will recognize, how she can do far more in Spain than anyone ever could in Louisiana." Anne finally spoke, the Polish Princess presenting a vague but clear message to me, there was more to this scheme than simply marrying an Italian nobleman for the Spanish throne. I wasn't exactly sure what she meant by that and I was, by no means, sold on this idea yet, but this statement from Anne was a major relief. I took a deep breath and regained my composure, that implicit promise of something better from Anne helped me recover, even if no one else in the room knew exactly what the French Queen was trying to say with that remark.

"What is it that you want from me?" I asked, tentatively, wanting to know the situation before I agreed to anything. I was, generally, asking the question to King Philippe, but, given that this is what my mother always had in mind for me, I suppose I shouldn't have been too surprised to see that this is where she took over, Yvonne explaining exactly what was required of me.

"Duke Carlo Francesco and an ambassador are already on route from Parma to Versailles, when they arrive, we will present you to Carlo. You're beautiful and intelligent, so, provided you can keep your tongue in check, you should have no problem impressing the the Spanish heir." my mother explained, meanwhile, I couldn't help but notice Anne's lewd smirk when my mother mentioned keeping my tongue in check. I barely managed to hide my reaction as her face combined with my own elation at seeing her again almost combined into a very, very inappropriate outburst. In any case, before anyone noticed our childish behavior, both Anne and I went back to listening to my mother's speech "Once you impress the Duke, he will continue to Spain to finalize his status as heir apparent, meanwhile, his ambassador will remain here to arrange a marriage by proxy. At that point, it simply is a matter of waiting for Fernando III to die, at which point, you'll journey to Spain, where Carlo Francesco should already be ready to greet you."

My mother's explanation just spelled out how awful and loveless such a marriage would be. A single meeting, a single meeting is all that would take place between Carlo Francesco and I, then we'll be married, not even that would be in person. Marriages by proxy were common among European nobility, yes, but I couldn't help but feel that it was utterly impersonal and medieval, a practice done purely to facilitate political alliances as quickly and efficiently as possible. Women will never be taken seriously in politics so long as the vagina remains a mere means to an end. I understand that political marriages are an excellent way of linking states together, but the practice is loveless, stifled, and emotionless. I cannot help but see my mother as even more of a hypocrite now - not only does she demand I get married off to produce important grandchildren, but she arranges a purely political marriage for me despite the fact that, from that very same perspective, my father should never have married her, instead, he should have maximized his marriage prospects and overlooked her. My mother is where she is today because my father married her out of love, yet now, she is forcing me into a loveless marriage.

"In order to increase your marriageability, I also name you the titular Duchess of Anjou, elevating you to an equal status with Carlo Francesco." King Philippe added, a hollow promotion simply meant to make me more appealing. The truth is that not even my father had any authority over Anjou, the whole title was hollow now that France was an absolute monarchy with Philippe and his bureaucrats running everything. Another ugly truth to this is that my own status didn't even matter, the whole purpose of this marriage was simply to link France and Spain together, it wouldn't be happening if the Duke of Parma wasn't about to become the King of Spain. This is about the Spanish Empire, the House de Bourbon has little interest in tiny Parma. In any case, I was now a Duchess, not just the wife of a Duke, but a Duchess in my own right, and that would normally be something worth celebrating, but right now, the title just reeks of this inheritance plot. I glanced at the chart once again, simply to check just how closely the Duke and I were related, hoping that there won't be inbred children to further compound my increasingly foul mood. My canal was only just becoming a reality, I was finally seeing success in Louisiana, even succeeding politically, now, I was being thrust into a marriage I didn't want with a man I didn't know to serve a political plot I didn't even believe in.

"What do shall I do now? To prepare for the marriage I mean." I replied, my voice soft, defeated. I tried to word it in the way that was the least offensive to myself as possible, trying to avoid the fact that I was being married, but the acceptance still stung. I don't know if I would have accepted this without Anne's presence and her reassurance, but I still want more, I want to know what this opportunity is, why she thinks this is a good thing, because surely the woman who loved me doesn't want to see me suffering under some Italian man with a Spanish crown on his head. This had to be something good, something to make me stomach that, something to keep me motivated when I know I could be in Louisiana instead, overseeing my governorship. Oh that governorship, I miss it already, if only some other woman was in my place, I could be in Nouvelle-Orleans with Alix as we planned to reap the economic benefits of the alliance with Spain, as short term profits and trade arrangements would be one of the few benefits to such a desperate and short term plan to win a Spanish throne we already lost.

"Come with me, I will help you - we have much to discuss." my mother announced, I followed obediently, as if something in me just died. All my efforts to prevent this, all my political success, even my governorship in Louisiana, all of it was meaningless in the end. My mother got exactly what she wanted and now I would be paraded around and showed off to the future King of Spain. I would, most likely, get his stamp of approval and what then? a marriage by proxy, the most impersonal and blatantly diplomatic arrangement possible. It almost goes without saying that Carlo Francesco will have mistresses, why wouldn't he? First of all, there is the fact that he has no reason to love me, second of all, there is the fact that I'm not exactly going to give him pleasurable sex considering I don't want it. Who knows, I might even take on a mistress, just someone who I actually love and care about to help me get through the joyless and loveless partnership that is a political marriage, much like Anne did with me. I'm not sure of much of anything right now though, I feel almost numb to everything. Part of it, I think, is still being stunned by seeing Anne again, but the rest? The rest is the all encompassing burden of failure, weighing me down and making me just want to curl up on the floor and cry. I didn't want this, I really didn't want this, but, in my opinion, the decision was made before I even stepped into this room, Philippe decided I was going to marry Carlo Francesco before he even recalled me from Louisiana, in fact, the decision is precisely why I was brought back here.

"Stop, she's perfect." My mother ordered, the handmaidens anonymously scurrying away as I stood there in a grand, burgundy dress with white and gold trim and a ridiculous hoop skirt. It was all too formal, too heavy, too unnatural - I was mostly comfortable in the fashions of Versailles, enjoying my typical dresses in this style, but hoop skirts and grand ball gowns were always too much for me - but again, I didn't really have much of a choice here. I was basically aware of the fact that my mother continued to circle me, observing how the dress fit and telling the handmaidens about any adjustments they need to make, but I honestly couldn't be bothered paying attention to any of it. 1700, the year which promised so much for me, the year which was going to be the start of a great French century, was turning out to be utterly miserable as my mother got her grand victory over me, reducing me to just a bride to be sold off to the highest bitter. The worst part of it all? Alix and, hopefully, Anne seem to be the only people giving me even the most basic consideration here, and they're both women. My mother finally came around back to the front, facing me. I didn't need to look her in the eyes to tell that she was unsatisfied with my expression, not happy with the blank sadness and the melancholy, but I didn't much care for her opinion right now, thus, before she could reply, I stopped her.

"Mother, you can't expect me to smile right now." I announced with finality. I wasn't going to lie, this whole experience, starting with being recalled to France from Nouvelle-Orleans, was threatening to break me, but I wasn't going to be broken, at least not entirely. I gained somewhat of a backbone during my time abroad, thanks to the influence of Alix de Lusignan, and, when I knew I had the power to argue, I was going to argue and I was going to resist. I would let my mother use me as a dress up doll, I would go along with a flawed scheme I hated because Anne promised there was more to it, but I was not going to pretend that I liked this. I was not going to try and actively sabotage my meeting with Carlo Francesco, I understood that there would be consequences if I did, but I wasn't going to give him warm smiles and flutter my eyelashes at him either. I don't know him and I'm not going to pretend to love him.

"Fine then, change and follow me." my mother announced with a sigh. I was somewhat curious as to what she meant by this, but I followed along, changing back into a much more practical blue dress with gold and silver trim. My clothes were still grand and beautiful, but I wanted them to be functional as well, and there was nothing functional about a hoop skirt. It was grand and ridiculous for no reason - I just got off an ocean voyage and now I learn that I have to be married, the last thing I want to feel like is a boat - but I suppose that was my life now. All those grand plans and ambitions for nothing, now, my existence is to be shown off in ballrooms for foreign dignitaries as my husband's badge of honor by day, and, by night, to take child after child until I either filled Carlo Francesco's court with children or I died in childbirth, whichever comes first. In any case, I got my mind off of the terrifying prospect of childbirth for long enough to follow my mother, though, in retrospect, perhaps it wasn't the worst line of thought to have.

I followed my mother through the halls of Versailles, moving towards the apartments she shared with my father, however, we stopped just short of their room. My mother quietly opened the doors and entered, I followed Yvonne in to reveal a little nursery, where another two handmaidens were watching over and attending to the needs of a newborn child, one they seemingly just got to sleep. The two nurses saw us, bowed slightly, and silently disappeared for the time being, allowing us some alone time with the child, who I quickly realized was my brother. Only a few months old, the tiny, fatty little body of a baby was hardly recognizable of hoe he may, one day, look, but I could see his pale skin and his barely grown in black hair, inherited from his father. I wasn't able to tell now considering that he was asleep, but my little baby brother also had blue eyes, matching my mother and I.

"This is little Louis Philippe Charles Joseph Emmanuel Francois Auguste d'Anjou, your little brother." My mother whispered, introducing me to my little brother Louis. Louis had a long string of dynastic names from family members and French Kings, as typical for a French noble - even I had a long list of secondary names no one will ever address me by - but his actual name is simply Louis, after his grandfather. My father's name, being hyphenated, is a bit of an exception to this rule, but even the dynastic name Joseph is retained in my brother's full name. I'm not sure what my mother intended to happen here, as if seeing a baby is supposed to make me want to give birth to one of my own, but I was grateful for it in a way, glad to finally see my baby brother. I was grateful for my time in Louisiana, and obviously I wish that Alix and I were still there, still overseeing colonial affairs and planning to turn the Spanish situation to our advantage, but I was glad that I got the chance to finally meet Louis. I'm sure that I would have gotten the chance eventually, after all, I would, as governess, have to journey to France from time to time to report to King Philippe X and, potentially, either explain myself or ask for assistance, as the situation demanded it, but I was still happy to get the chance to see him now, even if everything else in my life is falling apart. Little Louis is the only one in my family who can claim any innocence here though.

"Thank you for that." I did genuinely mean that when my mother and I slipped out of the nursery, allowing the nurses back in. I wasn't happy, at all, with how many family treated me and the decisions they made without my consent, but they were still my family, and I was grateful to finally see the newest member of the family. Like I said, I loved my governorship and would still be there if I could choose, but I did feel a bit guilty missing his birth...even now, having seen him, I can't tell you exactly when I was born. I'm sure my mother and father wrote to me, but it takes a long time for letters to cross the Atlantic, and they don't have the luxury of sending out a ship with a messenger on it whenever they want like King Philippe does. For all I know, my mother did send a letter about Louis - I am quite aware of the fact that this name is quite repetitive in my family history, but such is the way of French nobility, there are many nobles named Louis, many named Philippe, and many named Charles, my brother just happens to be named all three - and it only just now got to Nouvelle-Orleans. My mother started leading us back to the dressing room we were in as we started talking again.

"I didn't want a second child, you know. I didn't necessarily even want a first. I got married to your father because it was my best way of becoming upwardly mobile and I was able to make him fall in love with me. You're lucky enough that you don't even have to do the latter. You're going to become Queen of Spain, your children are going to be Kings, why can't you see that this is the best path for you? It won't necessarily be pleasant, nothing ever is, but think about what it will do for you, what it will do for your descendants?" my mother asked, trying to make me happy about this. She claims that she didn't want to marry my father or have me, but she has no idea about my real situation, she couldn't possibly understand it, at least she is attracted to men, at least she can get something out of being a wife, I don't want this, I don't want to experience it. As for being Queen of Spain, there is a big, big difference between being Queen-consort and being Queen-regnant, the very most I could possibly hope for in Spain is one day being Queen-regent for a son I never wanted. As for it being my descendants, I didn't believe in that, and I wanted to explain to my mother precisely why I didn't think that was the case.

"My descendants? History will forget me, it will certainly forget you. These won't be my children, they won't be Bourbons, they'll be Carlo Francesco's children, members of the House of Farnese, all I will be doing is giving birth to them and then handing them over to some nurses and tutors." I replied, emphasizing how minor the role of a woman truly is. I don't get to actually be a Queen and rule my state, I don't get to actually be a mother and raise my children, honestly, I don't get to actually be an individual, just a subservient object for my husband. Why would I ever want that? I'm better than that, I'm smarter than that, I deserve better. My mother may be satisfied with marrying and screwing her way into power, but I want a more dignified path to being a great woman. I want to be notable in my own right, not the woman behind a man, I want to become powerful without marrying, rather than marrying into power, and I want to be known for who I am, rather than who climbs on top of me at night. I didn't think that it was so radical to want this, I thought it was purely natural, though my mother begs to differ. I couldn't help but find it depressing that the biggest obstacle to me becoming a great woman was another woman. Sure, my mother liked to claim she knew who to play the royal marriage system to her benefit, but it's still a system that favors men over women.

"Am I any less your family because I'm not a Bourbon? There is a difference between dynasty and family." my mother countered, admittedly, she was bringing up a valid point. My family includes Maria Josefina, a Habsburg great grandmother, I'm not a Habsburg, yet that doesn't change the fact that she is family. That being said, the fact that descent is tracked by the male line always rather than by whichever family is more prestigious or secures better marriage terms is still unfair and still contributes to my point. I did have educated arguments to my mother's point, but that didn't change the fact that what I actually replied with was significantly more stubborn and vindictive than the reasoned arguments going through my mind.

"Oh suddenly when it comes to my descendants, you're sentimental about family, but, when it comes to what I actually want, duty comes before family. Have I got that right?" I replied, displaying a well sharpened tongue and attacking the low hanging fruit that is my mother's hypocrisy. A wave of guilt did wash over me as I realized how quickly my mother and I went from united in our doting over my new brother to fighting the same argument we've been fighting ever since I turned sixteen. The guilt didn't last too long though, mainly because I fully believed that I was in the right and that my mother was being the problem here, not allowing me to have a say in my future despite the fact that I'll be the one getting married, I'll be the one laying under Carlo Francesco, and I'll be the one giving birth to his children, not her. My mother acts as if giving birth to Louis was such a great burden, but then she turns around and asks me to give birth to Carlo Francesco's children, her own internal logic doesn't make sense. There is no justification for me getting married over than archaic tradition and the fact that Yvonne wants to sell off her daughter in exchange for wealth and comfort. I wondered if, perhaps, this was all her idea, convincing King Philippe that I should be the one married off, I mean, the fact that Philippe is making me a Duchess suggests he doesn't totally agree with my marriageability status, so, while this is only a baseless theory, there could be some truth to it. In any case, whether I'm a Duchess, Governess, or mere daughter, it seems I can't escape my mother's authority.

"I thought we were past this Yolande, I thought that we made up." Yvonne replied, keeping her voice soft. The pessimist in me thought that she was merely switching tactics, trying to guilt me into obedience, but I knew that wasn't entirely true, because I also felt that things got better with my mother before the journey to Louisiana. In fact, that is why this stings so much, because, on top of the dread that is the wedding, there is the pain of betrayal, that my own mother lied to me about wanting to make peace in our family. Her words here, however, implied that this wasn't the case, that she wasn't actually behind this, and suddenly, the realization must have shown on my face, because my mother continued "I didn't arrange this marriage Yolande, this is King Philippe's doing, I am simply trying to make the most of this. I am here to help you, to maximize your chances, and to make you a Queen. I know you would rather be a politician in Louisiana, but you have to understand I can't do that for you. I am doing everything in my power to make this easier for me and you're blaming me for everything."

"Why wouldn't I blame you? This is what you ultimately wanted after all." I replied, circling back to all those arguments over marriageability last year, showing my mother why I felt that this was her doing, after all, it matched up with what she always pressured me into. Even now, even today, she's making no secret of the fact that she wants me to be married, excited about her grandchildren being royalty, why wouldn't I blame her for it? Every single puzzle piece points to this being a win for her, is it Philippe's doing, sure, but my mother clearly didn't fight it and clearly doesn't want to. Nevertheless, I did realize I was being a bit callous by blaming everything on her, this is Philippe's doing, but it's equally wrong to call her entirely blameless. She is my mother and I clearly don't want this, she should be opposing this right at my side, not trying to convince me that this is for the best.

"Fine, fine, believe that." Yvonne replied, picking up her pace and remaining silent on the rest of the walk. We continued dressing me up and practicing for my meeting with the Duke of Parma, but communication was at an absolute minimum. My mother ignored my vacant expression, I ignored the fact my mother didn't even want to look at me, and we both ignored the tears in each other's eyes. Everything seemed so good as I left for Louisiana, with the obvious exception of Anne's punishment, but now, things were worse than ever. My relationship with my mother was actually showing promise when I left, but now, it felt like it had reached an all time low. A part of me wanted to apologize, to try and make it better, but I knew that would be hollow, this argument would return again in a vicious cycle of conflicting interests. In the end, my mother wants me to be married and I want to stay as far away from marriage as possible, this is, naturally, an irreparable difference. I wish things weren't like this, but things aren't going to get any better with my mother any time soon.

I took a deep breath before I knocked on the door to Anne's apartments. I was already surprised enough to find that there were no guards, no handmaidens, and no King Philippe to stop me, but I still felt nervous knocking on that door. After everything that happened, I couldn't imagine that it would be this simple, that I would just be allowed to see Anne again, but, of course, I was going to try as soon as possible anyway. So, here I was, realizing now that I never actually expected that I would get this far, but no less happy to hear the door open and see Anne standing there. The beautiful blonde was dressed in a white and gold dress, appearing like the very definition of elegance, an angle came from heaven to liberate me from the unfortunate shackles of circumstance. I suppose what happened next shouldn't have been as surprising as it was, but I found myself overcome with shock and elation simultaneously.

Anne pulled me into the room, stopping for just a moment - taking care to lock the door this time, both of us have that particular lesson eternally etched in our brains - and then, utter bliss happened. Anne threw her arms around me and kissed me, her lips downright hungry against mine as, with each kiss, with every bit of contact, she communicated her months of loneliness and the utter impatience she felt in that meeting, seeing me for the first time in ages, but being a space far too public to actually do anything. For that moment, I wasn't being married anymore, I hadn't just lost my governorship, I was simply with Anne, enjoying her love, enjoying her touch, and enjoying her lips against mine. That bliss couldn't last though, both of us knew that time was gone now, but still, that little slice of heaven was the best thing I've experience since coming back to France. Only a few minutes later, we were sitting together in Anne's tea room, having a much needed conversation, and I had to ask the question which has been terrifying me ever since that meeting.

"The marriage to Carlo Francesco...it wasn't your idea, was it? I can't have that be the opportunity you promised, I need more Anne, you know that." I finally voiced my worries, freeing myself of an immense burden. I felt stupid the moment I asked it, I knew that Anne would never do that to me, if I had any doubts, they were completely erased by that needy kiss just a moment ago, but I needed to hear it from Anne's mouth, I needed the reassurance. It's not logical I admit, it's even childish, but I'm only seventeen and I need to hear this, I can't just be married off with the creeping suspicion that my very own Anne, the woman I loved, was the one responsible for this. I needed that silly little thought quashed, and I needed it quashed now.

"No, I had nothing to do it. It was all Philippe's idea, his attempt to cut his losses and make something of the Spanish succession. What he said at the meeting, about you being his highest ranking unmarried female relative, that's true - but, at the same time, I don't doubt it has something to do with my freedom. Perhaps, my husband, in his cruelty, has decided that seeing the woman I loved, the woman who I chose over him, being married off to some foreign King while I'm forced to watch would be a much more fitting punishment than isolation." Anne explained, her voice thick with contempt for the man she was married to. I couldn't exactly be happy with this answer, knowing that this marriage was just another way of punishing Anne. Evidently, King Philippe decided that letting me have freedom and success was too good for Anne, he thinks she would suffer more if I was the one suffering and she had all the freedom and all the privileges in the world. Anne would feel all the pain I felt in Louisiana with none of the motivation to push forward. It was a genius and horrid thing to do to his own wife.

"Thank you Anne, I needed that." I sighed, sinking deeper into my seat as I released the horrible burden of that foolish question. I had Versailles etiquette drilled into me as a child, so I never imagined I would be here, slouching and depressed in the Queen's tea room, but there was a lot about my relationship with Anne that I couldn't have possibly expected. I didn't have to be the perfect noblewoman around Queen Anne, I didn't need to be the proper bride who would be married off to a foreign King to secure an alliance, she loved me for who I truly was. Anne, before Alix, before Philippe, and certainly before my family, gave me the opportunity to pursue my political dreams, almost immediately exposing me to a world greater than the one I expected for myself. She spoiled me, I suppose, because After Anne, I'll never find a woman as amazing as she is, and, unfortunately, I'll never be satisfied with the life I'm supposed to live. I looked over to her beautiful green eyes, and, in them, I saw the deepest understanding of my experience from the Polish Princess.

"I'm sorry about everything that's going to happen to you Yolande, but you have to remain strong. Find ways to cope with your marriage to Carlo, find a like-minded woman if you can, but stay strong. This doesn't have to be the end of your political career." Anne reached over and grabbed my hand, the feeling of her skin on me and her encouraging words combined to serve as an excellent motivator. Another motivator was that, once again, Anne implied that there could be something more to this Spanish marriage than is immediately evident. Anne and I knew we shouldn't have kept holding hands, knowing that our own feelings could get ourselves in some serious trouble, but we kept holding hands anyway. it was a welcome connection as I finally asked about the opportunity she alluded to, feeling safe and warm here, knowing I can ask these questions, knowing I can speak freely here.

"I know Anne, I know. You of all people understand my situation. I do have to ask though, what do you mean this doesn't need to be the end? Am I supposed to expect Carlo Francesco to just give me political duties?" I asked, not quite sure where this opportunity could be, but, at the same time, I fully believed Anne's promise to me. I couldn't just expect to be given political opportunities by my future husband, after all, Anne is such a great, intelligent woman, but King Philippe hasn't trusted her with any real power at all, why would Carlo Francesco be any different? I can hope he won't be quite as single-handedly absolutist as King Philippe, but I can't count on that being the path for political opportunity. Anne, obviously, knows that, so I can't help but wonder what her plan is. How are things supposed to get better for me when everything seems so hopeless? I want to know, I need to know.

"Well, Philippe didn't mention this, but we have actually gotten a hold of some of the letters exchanged between King Fernando III and Carlo Francesco. I can tell you three things from these letters. One: Carlo Francesco was somewhat reluctant to rule the whole Spanish Empire, at one point, he even asked Fernando to partition the Spanish Empire instead, giving him the Kingdom of Naples and finding someone else to rule Spain itself. This suggests a reluctance for Carlo Francesco to rule, a reluctance that I'm sure you could exploit. Two: Fernando revealed that, while the Aragonese Corts and the Italian realms would be happy to accept an Italian monarch to avoid a Habsburg or Bourbon inheritance, the Castilian Cortes would rather be aligned with another European great power, and you are still well played on Fernando's succession chart. The fact that the Castilians would be more welcoming of a Bourbon is another thing you could exploit. Finally, and I don't need those letters to tell you this, you're a better, more intelligent, more capable person than Carlo Francesco could ever be." I sat there and let Anne's words sink in, afraid to even voice the implication behind her words because of how radical an idea it was, but...it was certainly a motivator. The marriage was much more tolerable as a means to an end rather than my fate for the rest of my life. I was certainly more willing to do along with this, but one important question remained.

"Would King Philippe be willing to support such a thing?" I asked, Anne and I were getting into dangerous territory here, plotting a vast international intrigue, one which could easily result in a war against Austria, England, the Netherlands, and their allies, I need to know whether or not I would have King Philippe's support in the event that this mere idea, this mere opportunity, became a reality. We touted an alliance between France and Spain as an unstoppable force in European politics, and we better be right, because this kind of plan would definitely put that alliance to the test, drawing much of Europe into a great struggle over the fates of empires, dynasties, and whole legacies, it was a grand gamble, but, if it worked, the Bourbons would be the true rulers of Europe.

"King Philippe knows his plan is flawed too, he is just acting in lieu of a better one. Presenting him with a better alternative will certainly win his support, especially if it benefits the Bourbons as a whole." Anne replied, a smile growing on her face as we, once again, were discussing grand political schemes. I knew it wouldn't last but this conversation is a much needed reminder of what Anne and I had not too long ago, and I was loving every minute of it. Nevertheless, my mission in Spain was now completely transformed, what was once an inevitable miserable marriage is now an opportunity to become a greater woman than I could have ever imagined. I didn't like Philippe's plan, neither did Anne, as it turns out, therefore, we are going to go ahead with our own plan, and, when the time is right, Philippe will support it. The King of France and the patriarch of the Bourbon dynasty will go along with what is in his best interests.

"You look happier." Alix remarked when I found the Cypriot Princess again. My best friend and I had that one dream a year ago, where Anne could be King of Poland-Lithuania, Alix could be Queen of Cyprus, and, together, we would find a realm of my own to rule. Now, just a year later, I was about to become the Queen of Spain - Queen-Consort, yes, but Queen nonetheless - perhaps there was a bright side to this marriage after all. I still found the experience dreadful, and, of course, I wish I didn't have to get married, but my conversation with Anne has calmed me down and given me a reason to go along with this plan, if only for the purposes of engineering a better plan out of it. That, I suppose, is why I looked happier - well that, and the fact I got to speak with Anne in private to begin with, that isn't something I imagined when Philippe recalled me to France - and, to be fair, I was happier. On the other hand, considering the all time low I reached with my mother earlier, I suppose it wasn't difficult to look happier than that.

"I am, I am." I smiled at my friend as I sat down next to her. I was ready to tell Alix de Lusignan why things were looking up, but then I noticed something: my friend was watching something. I followed her gaze and found the Earl of Anglesey in France once again, the English ambassador likely here to discuss the new developments with the Spanish situation with King Philippe. I would guess that Queen Margaret II and King Maurice now except a detente, the Duke of Parma peacefully inherits the Spanish Empire and the balance of power in Europe is largely kept intact. The French and the Austrians would cease our belligerence, and the states of Europe could breath a sigh of relief before turning north to see the growing crisis there. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Kingdom of Denmark-Norway, and the Tsardom of Russia have all found themselves in a war against the Kingdom of Sweden for dominance over the Baltic region. This would have likely already escalated into a much larger conflict if not for the even larger crisis brewing over Spain, a crisis seemingly averted. The English, however, will not be getting exactly what they want, for the crisis has simply turned into a mad frenzy of strategic marriages, mine being only the principle one.

The Habsburgs, obviously, will not be happy with losing the Spanish crown, and many Austrians will try to marry into significant positions around the Farnese family, creating deep links between Madrid and Vienna. The Austrians benefited immensely from having a Spanish ally with which to surround France, now, just like Philippe trying to capitalize on Fernando's new succession table, the Habsburgs will try and minimize their losses. Carlo Francesco may be getting married to a Bourbon, but I fully expect his brothers to receive generous dowry offers from Vienna. This would be particularly advantageous, from a Habsburg perspective, should Carlo Francesco die without producing an heir, as then, they could push one of his brothers on the throne. Thus, the Habsburgs would have the same arrangement that Philippe is trying to achieve now. A small, temporary, and largely meaningless victory, but the Austrians will definitely try for it. Of course, should Carlo Francesco die prematurely, the Habsburgs won't be the only ones making a move for the Spanish throne, far from it.

"Philippe has been telling the Earl all about how the French will honor the Spanish inheritance, stating that there won't be any war. I think the Earl is actually buying it." Alix laughed, bemused at the Earl of Anglesey. I truly can't tell if the man is crafty or a fool, on one hand, he tried to trade Spain for an Anglo-Dutch union, which is a crafty move, but, it was clearly Stadtholder Mauritz IV's plan. That's not even to mention the fact that the Earl evidently doesn't realize that he serves Queen Margaret II, not King Maurice. I do suppose this plan means that Mauritz would come to rule England, Scotland, and Ireland as well as the Netherlands, but the Earl shouldn't be basing his political future off of a mere possibility. I say that while, at the same time, I'm more accepting of this marriage because of some possible opportunities it could bring, so perhaps I'm being somewhat of a hypocrite in critiquing the English ambassador. That, of course, didn't manage the fact that it was fun. There is nothing the French love more than mocking our English counterparts, and I'm sure the feeling is mutual.

"To be fair, I do think war can be avoided if everything goes well." I acknowledged. I fully expect there to be no initial conflict, both France and Austria shall honor the Farnese inheritance, however, both sides will no doubt try and capitalize on the situation. My marriage to Carlo Francesco and those suspected Habsburg marriages to the Duke's brothers are just the beginning of this battle for real control. The various plots and grasps for power by both the Bourbons and the Habsburgs following the Farnese inheritance, that could well result in war, Alix is absolutely right about that. The fact is, with Anne and I seeing the Farnese inheritance as a means to an end and the Habsburgs seeing it the same way, we are honoring the Spanish succession by definition, but not in practice. We would allow the Duke of Parma to ascend to the Spanish throne, but whether or not the Austrians and the French will let him stay there is another matter. Of course, regardless of what we're actually doing, getting the English untangled from their alliance with Austria is a priority, after all, an alliance with Spain would be infinitely more useful if we could isolate the Austrians and their bloc of allies in the east away from the Anglo-Dutch bloc in the north.

"I can't see everything going well though. The generals have been planning for war for years at this stage, planning ways to sweep through Spain, invade the Holy Roman Empire, and pressure the Austrians. All that military amassed, a document from King Fernando III himself acknowledging French and Austrian claims to the Spanish throne, and only a little Duchy in northern Italy to support the Spanish? It's all too good of an opportunity, either we're going to declare war or the Austrians are going to. This is not a good enough diplomatic solution to stop the tide of war." Alix countered, giving a very learned, very experienced, and very real outlook on this situation. The fact is, Alix is absolutely right, both Austria and France are ready for war, and, while war doesn't need to happen, it absolutely can. My own words came back around to me - war can be avoided if everything goes well - what are the actual chances of everything going well?

Honestly, the Austrians may declare war just based off of my marriage to Carlo Francesco, seeing that as bringing Spain too close to France. That being said, that wasn't so bad actually, because, if we could paint the Austrians as the aggressors, then perhaps the English would be reluctant to join the war, not willing to help press Austrian claims to Spain when, technically speaking, the French hadn't done anything wrong. The Netherlands wouldn't enter the war without English support, Mauritz IV knows how vulnerable the Netherlands are, thus, convincing Queen Margaret to avoid joining this potential war really is key. Things were definitely getting interesting politically, on the surface, the Spanish question seemed answered, but, in reality, the situation was far more complicated than that.

Alix and I sat there, thinking about the myriad of possible outcomes to the Spanish inheritance, all the while watching King Philippe finish up with the Earl of Anglesey. The King of France himself was assuring the English ambassador that France would respect the inheritance, the ambassador was supposed to see that as a true commitment to peace, calming English fears. Of course, in reality, we were still plotting on securing influence and an alliance with France at the very minimum, so the English really should be paranoid, but Philippe was, to his credit, being convincing. It was hard to idolize Philippe the way I used to, after seeing him abuse his wife, seeing his moments of human weakness, and seeing his stubborn refusal to accept being outmaneuvered, however, I did acknowledge that he was a very good King for a number of reasons. The man was a mastermind in many ways, and here, he was definitely showing off his charisma and his diplomatic skill, convincing the Earl of Anglesey that the moment for war had passed while actively attempting to win as much control over Spain as possible. Perhaps Philippe could even sense when he was being praised, for, as soon as I had this thought, the King turned and noticed us.

"Yolande, Alix, I wish to speak with you." King Philippe announced, more of an order than an actual request. Nevertheless, we both played along and gave him permission, knowing where we stand in comparison to the Sun King in Versailles "As I have made clear, I am satisfied with your performance in Louisiana. I received a healthy stream of revenue, the troublesome Natchez finally accepted a treaty with us, and the number of settlers increased, I couldn't have possibly expected more in less than a year. More important circumstances, however, forced you to return to France, despite your success. Taking all of this into account, I think it is only right that I consult you in asking who should be the next governor. I have been told that the Marquis d'Esclignac is a fine option, educated, well placed in the colony, and even providing considerable sums of his own money to colonial projects, but what do you think?"

"Well, my liege, I do think that the Marquis is a good option, but I do not feel he is the best choice." I replied, knowing that I didn't want Marquis Henri to replace me as governor, but I also knew that I had to be diplomatic and give actual reasons for my decision, not simply my own opinions of the man "The Marquis is a colonial landholder, we will always do what is in his best interests rather than what is in France's best interests. Why would he maximize revenue to France when he could instead take as much of that money as possible for his plantation and his land speculation? Not to mention his close ties to the Mississippi Company, I could legitimately see him trading away authority to corporate interests in the main of personal advancement."

"Indeed, the established colonial aristocracy was built around a system of self-interest, and Marquis Henri was at the center of that system. For every time that he helped us, there was another time where he battled with us. I believe that, if we are to choose a colonial landholder for the position, it should be someone newer, someone who has not yet become a part of this self-motivated society of planters." Alix chimed in, the two of us were united in who we wanted, and her parallel thinking placed us in exactly the right place to propose the next governess of Louisiana. I say governess because the other option would have been Jean-Baptiste de la Tour, but Alix and I agreed even in Louisiana that he wasn't yet ready, and besides, he was exactly where he needed to be right now, overseeing the canal project. I didn't want to take Jean-Baptiste away from that, nor did I think that he was ready for such a position. The colonial nobleman's time will come, but, for now, I want to recommend the woman who believed in us from almost the very beginning of her time in Nouvelle-Orleans, offered us her financial support without asking anything in return, and shares our vision for the future of the colony.

"Indeed Alix, perhaps someone like Lady Marie-Victoire de Wurttemberg." I proposed, glancing over to the King and seeing a quizzical expression, he didn't know who this woman was and he was skeptical, fortunately, Alix and I were more than ready to convince Marie's talents "We didn't think much of her at first, a widower from France who came and bought the former governor's plantation, but she quickly approached us and revealed she was something more. Marie Victoire wants to make Louisiana into a colonial Versailles, a place where French noblemen and noblewomen alike can feel at home, can invest safely in the land, and be safe from any bands of native attackers. She also sees how the vast plains of the colony could be turned into farms for the troublesome sons of farmers, solving countless small inheritance disputes in the petty farms and fields of France. Not to mention serving as a potential destination for the excess peasant population. Marie Victoire has an advanced vision for Louisiana, the same vision Alix and I had, and she can forge the colony into something that can appeal to all elements of French society. She may be a German by birth but she has become a good and loyal Frenchwoman and, I believe, the ideal candidate for the next governess."

"Very well, I shall take this into consideration. Thank you Yolande, Alix." the King thanked us and left, he hadn't made the decision yet, but I believe that Alix and I did enough to persuade Philippe of the choice. I did believe that Marie Victoire was the right woman for the job too, after all, she was smart, wealthy, and aligned with our vision, as far as I was concerned, she was the closest Alix and I could get to a continued governance of the colony. I suppose that, technically speaking, Alix didn't have to leave the colony either, in fact, she could be the next governess, however, Alix would rather be here. The only reason Alix went to Louisiana to begin with was to support me, now that I was back, she could live in the comfort of Versailles. Especially now that, having achieved success in her own right, Alix has received a room and a salary in Versailles, free from her fool of a father and his pathetic debts. In that way, it seems, Alix has become the biggest success out of the three of us - Anne seems to have only just now gotten back to where she was before her punishment, and I'm being married off to the Duke of Parma and being forced to make the most of that situation - and I was happy for her. Still, I wish there was a way all three of us could be successful. In any case, for now, all I could do was enjoy my friendship with Alix, knowing that, soon enough, I would be meeting with Carlo Francesco and his ambassador.

Alright everyone, this has been a long chapter, but also an eventful one, after all, we're getting ready to move into act two of this story. Chapter ten will be the final chapter of act one, but, unlike some of my recent FFN stories, I'm going to go straight into act two with chapter eleven, no hiatus with this story. As for what act two will feature, well...you'll just have to read and find out. Of course, the hints are there and it's kinda obvious which historical event this story is loosely based on...