Negociations in Rouen
There were many carriages and horses in front of the Sorel mansion on this beautiful summer day of 1567. The place had been chosen as the place the Huguenots and Catholics would try to negotiate some peace in the area since Rouen was one of the most touched by the war and its citizen needed some break. England had send some allies of the Huguenots to help negotiate and see that the French Protestants are respected.
The French count François de Sorel gazed at his guests while welcoming them in his mansion and the grand salon. He knew fairly well his Catholic allies, and knew most of the French Huguenots as well but their English allies were mostly unknown to him. As his gaze swept through Queen Elizabeth's subjects, he suddenly noticed a young girl standing beside one of the English aristocrats. She was richly dressed but she strangely had white hair…
This troubled the count: Not only did she look strange, that he could ignore, but what was a child doing here? This very important reunion was an adult thing. A child would understand nothing at this and may be traumatized by the maybe violent confrontation that may arise between both parties. François had already seen some negotiations degenerate to complete slaughter since the religious war began some years ago… Since it was decided it would be in his house this time, he would do anything to keep the guests as calm as possible and avoid confrontation. So that was why he asked both parties to leave their weapon at the entrance.
But still just in case of trouble, the little girl should leave the room… François thought he would have to ask his own children to occupy her… Probably only his eldest child Raphael would be able to do this… The young girl seemed to be about his age… Eight years old… Henriette, his older daughter, with her six years old, may be close in age and was a girl like her, yet she barely knew how to speak English, Raphael was more knowledgeable of the language and beside, Henriette was actually bedridden with sickness… She didn't have a very good health, being always sick… His other children were even less fitting to keep her company, Claude was only three years old; he was too young and didn't know the English language at all as was Victoire with her one year old… and their next child would only be born in about four months…
Noticing the French count was looking at the child, the man beside the little girl told him:
-I am the Earl of Valentine, sent by her Royal Highness to attend to the negotiations. I brought my daughter Isabella so she can enjoy the trip and see some beautiful sights of France. We do not travel very often so I thought it would be good for her to do so now.
The Earl of Valentine was an alchemist and since some years he had become so obsessed with his researches that he spent most of his time in his laboratory. He didn't leave his mansion very often and his daughter never got to see much of the outside world except when visiting relatives or friends with her mother. Her mother was the one taking her out but the Earl almost never accompanied them anymore. He even began to stop receiving guests as often as he did before at his home. People were coming far less often than some years ago when there was almost always some party or reception going on. Since he learned about Soul Edge, he was becoming a hermit with his obsession for this sword that he thought could grant eternal life.
He was really furious when he received a letter from the Queen, ordering him to leave his laboratory to accompany the English delegation in France. But as he grumbled over this, his daughter Isabella asked him with her innocent face why he was so upset. Seeing his daughter made him calm down. Isabella was not his real daughter, he and his wife had always been unable to have children but one day, they found an abandonned baby at their door. They wanted a child so they felt they were now blessed with this little baby girl and raised her as their own. The Earl loved his daughter deeply and he knew that somehow, he was now neglecting her over his researches. He then thought that he should make some efforts to please her sometimes. She would probably like a trip to France. So he smiled and asked her if she wanted to go in France. Then the trip would be to please her and not only for an annoying delegation going there for something he did not even care about. Isabella was very happy by the offer: She would get to see another country and have a boat trip! So they both left England to come here while Countess Valentine was taking care of the manor in England.
The strangely white haired girl then walked some steps and gracefully curtsied to the count of Sorel.
-You speak French? That is very good. My son also learns English. He shall keep you company. You are about the same age, I am certain you shall get along.
Francois then sent for his son. Some times later, Raphael arrived in the grand salon. He looked at Ivy and the first thing that came through his mind was wondering why she had white hair. Yet he knew he should not stare, that was not polite so he wanted to greet her politely but he suddenly didn't remember the words for greeting someone in English. He remembered in Spanish but to learn many other languages beside French at the same time was kind of confusing; he learned Spanish since his Spanish mother often spoke in this language and wanted to teach him. She also had a full staff of Spanish servants to help her in this task as she ordered them to speak only Spanish to Raphael. He was also learning English since four years and had begun latin since two years. But yet he forgot the proper salutations in English.
Raphael got nervous: his father was just beside him, he could not stay there, saying nothing, his father would get angry and punish him later, so he graciously bowed to the little girl and said in French which would make more sense than suddenly speaking in Spanish:
His father looked at him while raising an eyebrow for his son's greeting in French but Raphael continued.
-I am glad to meet you. May I present you the house? I mean, around the house?
And he gallantly presented her his arm. Ivy looked at him then quickly did a curtsy before she took his arm and they began to walk away.
-Oh! By the way, I am Raphael. Raphael Sorel.
-Ivy. I mean… Isabella Valentine… My father calls me Ivy…
-So you have a nickname? Like your Queen, I heard you call her Bess, Good Queen Bess… Is that right?
-Ahh… I don't call her like this… But yes… many do… But I shall talk in French pour vous faire plaisir. Vous n'avez pas à faire tout l'effort…
-It is not effort, my lady… said the young boy as they left the room together. The Count and the Earl both seemed glad their children seemed to get along with each other and both outlined a proud smile. The children made some mistakes in the presentation but they finally pleased their parents.
As he was showing her some salon, Raphael was still wondering about Ivy's white hair but he knew it was quite impolite and during such an important meeting, he should not make any mistake or he'll regret it for the rest of his life… His father would make sure of it. Yet he really wanted to ask her about her hair… So he clumsily told her:
-You… have a nice dress.
-Merci. I didn't know boys looked at this so soon…
Raphael blushed. What? He just wanted to get to the hair without looking suspicious but he was now completely embarrassed so he decided to stop talking about this. Who cares about the hair? They must be some very pale blond… That's all… Yet they were white… They really were white… But he had to forget it.
-Hum… Euh… You want to see the house more?
-You know, hum…
Raphael was searching for his words.
-… instead of using French or English language, why don't we try another? Not the native one of any of us? You know Spanish?
-Non. Pas tout de suite. My father said I should learn it but I didn't learn it yet. Anyway I do not feel interest in learning it. I have no reasons to do so, I do not know anyone who speaks Spanish and don't intend to go in Spain since they don't get along very well with our country. I don't care about the war and all but we barely go out anyway. Yet I like my trip here. France est très beau.
Raphael didn't care about Ivy's mistakes in French and answered:
-Merci. My mother is Spanish so I am half Spanish. That is why I know the language. So if you would have know it…
-Well, my father and mother are both English and their roots are in England since many centuries. Yet my father said he may have ancestors in Italy… But I know I have no Spanish ancestors. But if you wish to speak another language, I know Latin…
-… Me too but very few… very, very few. Not enough to speak with it…
-I know much Latin. My father has a lot of books in this language. Many magical books about alchemy and astronomy and occult sciences… My father knows a lot. He is even studying Soul Edge.
-Soul Edge? What is that?
Ivy suddenly wondered if she spoke too much. Were these things, secret? What if her father was now pointed as sorcerer? Yet she was proud of her father's knowledge about alchemy and all… He was a great scholar. So she continued speaking but with some less assurance.
-… Hum… It's a magical sword…
Raphael seemed surprised.
-A magical sword? Like Excalibur?
-Hum… Yes… I suppose… I don't really know…
-Âme bord or Âme pointe or Âme tranchant… With a name like that, it must be evil, non?
-Huh… I think it is not supposed too… Maybe it is only if we don't know how to use it. Like Excalibur. How many died for it? They had to be worthy.
-Indeed… But why Soul? Does it do something to the soul?
Ivy got really embarrassed.
-Hum… Maybe I should stop talking about it. I know nothing. Sorry, I don't know.
A magical sword seemed interesting but Raphael thought it must be like Excalibur and people will keep searching for it for centuries so he probably won't see that Soul Edge. Yet it would be fun to find a magical sword one day… But he did as Ivy asked him and stopped talking about it. As they were walking in some gallery, Raphael suddenly whispered:
-This is my little sister Henriette bedroom. We cannot go there, she is sick and have to sleep. When she is fine, she is amusing to play with but she is often sick.
He whispered even more.
-Mère et Père even fear she will die soon… Her… wealth is so bad…
-Oh yes indeed, désolé.
He added after a moment:
-But she did survive some illness when doctors said she will die.
-I hope she will get well soon. Said Ivy to be encouraging.
Raphael walked away toward another door.
-My little brother Claude bedroom. You want to see him?
-If you wish.
They entered the room: A little boy of three years old was playing with some toys while a nanny was looking after him. The little boy seemed shy upon seeing Ivy and turned his head away.
Ivy was embarrassed, she walked to him to try to make him feel less shy.
-Bonjour petit enfant…
-Mademoiselle, corrected Raphael.
-Mademoiselle, repeated Raphael.
-Mademoiselle, repeated Raphael once more.
-Madoimoselle… repeated Claude with a smile, he liked to play with his brother and say the words not right after having failed to say it right. Raphael was funny. Raphael guessed that Claude was now playing, so he sighed and stopped.
-What a cute little boy you are… said Ivy as she leaned on Claude and kissed his forehead. The little boy blushed. He didn't understand a word but she seemed kind… But he felt shy around her…
Then the nanny told Raphael that Claude would have to take his afternoon nap so Raphael had to leave with his guest. Before he left, Raphael told Claude:
Raphael sighed again and left.
Ivy looked at how Raphael tried to teach his brother how to speak properly and said:
-It must be nice to have siblings. After my birth, the doctor told my mother she would never have children again. So I will never have a little brother or sister.
-I can give you Claude. You can teach him how to speak. But I think you will give him back to me soon.
-But you seem such a good teacher… You seemed so patient with him… You had such a gentle tone when you spoke to him, you are a good brother and you will do a good father later…
Raphael didn't think he was patient but whatever. He let Ivy have her opinion. She must be polite…
They went to a finely decorated door at the end of a long gallery with many portraits.
-This is my father private study.
Not knowing what to show Ivy to distract her, he had decided to show her some more interesting places than an ordinary salon and all… So his father's private study was perfect: There was a lot of things there: books, art… Once in front of the door, Raphael tried the doorknob. To his surprise, the door opened. He had somehow expected it to be locked. Raphael was excited: He never went himself too often there. Only when his father called him there so the room was even more appealing.
While they were entering, Ivy wondered if they had the permission for it, Raphael seemed strange and worried… He did furtively look behind him when he opened the door… Ivy concluded that they were probably doing something not permitted… But looking upon the place with the books and all, seemed interesting for the little girl, so she followed the count's son inside.
Raphael went to his father's desk, looking for interesting things to show his guest. He glanced at one of the desk's drawers: The one where his father always kept his pistol. A pistol his father always bragged about, François was very proud of this weapon that had cost him a small fortune since it was the latest model and very finely engraved. Should he show it to Ivy? It was indeed very well done… Yet Raphael was scared of the weapon… And holding a pistol may be dangerous… No, he would not show that weapon to Ivy. Beside the drawer seemed locked since it had a keyhole. Of course, he could try it anyway but he somehow never liked that weapon his father was so proud of… This pistol was not worth it. Maybe he still remembered too much the gunshots he heard around the manor some years ago… The slaughter the Huguenots made among the servants when they surrounded the mansion and shot at them while his father was in Paris and his mother was alone with him and his little sister Henriette… It was the first time he saw people dying in front of him… and even sometimes still heard gunshots around… Yet he didn't fear sword fight… He turned his head toward the wall where Flambert, the family heirloom was hooked. He loved that rapier… That was a real weapon, not a coward's weapon…
-You want to see something very valuable and beautiful?
Raphael was asking Ivy as he was taking a chair and brought it under where the weapon was hooked before Ivy, who was gazing at the books, could even answer. He unhooked it and jumped down with the weapon in his hand.
As Ivy approached him, he muttered while gazing at the rapier:
-Flambert, my family heirloom…
Raphael then went toward the door.
-Let go outside to try it!
-Try it? Said Ivy with some apprehension.
-Yes. I have not taken it for nothing, continued the young boy while admiring the blade and walking out of the room after looking if no one was there.
Then once outside, in the beautiful courtyard with many trees where many birds were singing and the sun was shining. Raphael slashed the air with the rapier while fighting an imaginary adversary. Using this rapier had been something he always wished to do but never dared before. Now since he took it to show Ivy, he would have some fun with it.
-Hahaha! Tiens sale ennemi! Prends ça! Et ça! Ha! Coup de grace! Hahahaha! J'ai gagné! Je suis imbattable!
He then stopped fighting alone and told Ivy.
-Once I will be old enough, I will become a great fighter. I will strike fear into all the heart of my enemies!
-So you will fight my father?
-Because he is Protestant. Won't they be your enemies?
-Well… The French Protestants…
Raphael didn't have the feeling this war would end soon even with the actual reunion of some aristocrats here so he was certain he would later fight his compatriots who were not on his side. The war had begun when he was two and a half years old so he had difficulties to see his country without this civil war. He grew up with it. But he knew France and Britain were not quite friends either…
-… But indeed we have been enemy of your nation too… Well, hum… maybe I will fight your father… But I do not wish to… If he doesn't attack my family, I won't attack him. I will only protect my family. I think it is stupid that people kill each other for wearing a crucifix or not… I wear one, you don't. I won't kill you for this…
Raphael was not even sure what the reasons for killing each other really were. What were the differences between a Huguenot and a Catholic?
-Fortunately, because you have a good rapier in your hand… said Ivy with a small smile.
Raphael suddenly felt the power he had now, if he wished, he could kill her like this… Somehow it was frightening and exciting. But he didn't want to hurt Ivy and he thought she should try holding a rapier too since it did give some kind of exciting feeling. He then handed the rapier to Ivy.
-You want to try it? But don't kill me because I have a chapelet…
-But… Are you sure? It is your father's weapon… What if I break it?
-It is a weapon, not a glass cup. Allez! Try it!
Ivy was still hesitant but Raphael encouraged her once more so she carefully took the rapier and began making some moves with it. At first, she barely moved the sword but then, having fun, she began to swing it in a more energetic way, she found it was kind of fun and exciting. After a while of Ivy having fun with the blade, Raphael began to grow nervous and gazed at the mansion: He had to bring the rapier back before his father noticed and punished him… So he asked Ivy to give him back Flambert and they got back to the private study where Ivy kept guard while Raphael went inside replacing the precious rapier. Once he got out of the room, he asked Ivy:
-So we go outside again?
Ivy agreed and they went in the courtyard once more. Raphael picked a branch the size of a short sword and swung it like a weapon.
-You want to fight?
Ivy's gaze illuminated. She never played sword like the boys before but she just discovered she liked that when she held Flambert. So she picked a branch as well, grinned excitedly and quickly launched herself at Raphael who parried the strike. They fought for a while until Ivy stopped; complaining her dress was cumbersome and she began to take it off. Raphael froze and deeply blushed.
-… W-What are you doing?…
-Taking off my dress. Don't worry; I have other clothes under it! My mother told me it even was your Queen mother Catherine de' Medici that launched this fashion of women wearing long underwear pants so she could ride horses!
Once her dress was down, Ivy had indeed some long underwear pants with frills. Raphael gazed at the mansion: What if their parents surprised them like this? He said without daring looking at her:
-But… Euh… I don't think your father will appreciate…
-He won't see. He is busy.
Raphael thought that he may be busy like his father as well but his mother or any servant may see them by some window… He imagined his mother gasping as she sees this little girl undressed in front of her son… And the words his mother would use… All in Spanish… Invoking God, the Holy Virgin and all the saints she knew… Before she would call his father. Seeing Raphael's completely worried and embarrassed stare, Ivy sighed.
-Very well then. I shall keep my annoying dress! You boys are lucky to dress like you do!
Having worn a dress like all children, boys or girls did in their early age, Raphael still remembered how it was cumbersome. Indeed girls were not lucky to have to wear cumbersome dresses… He understood Ivy… But he was really afraid that his parents or Ivy's father would catch her in her underwear and punish them both. He didn't care himself that she dressed as she wished, somehow it did embarrass him a little but he mostly feared his father's reaction: He didn't want to be whipped by his father… If she was any ordinary neighbour, it would have been a less serious offence but now it was some political diplomatical meeting, she was the daughter of some guest from another country… The punishment would be quite severe… Having finished dressing up, Ivy told Raphael who was still staring at the mansion:
-You can look now.
-I am sorry for telling you to dress again.
-It's okay. I understand. My father would be ashamed too if he saw me… I may have become too annoyed at my dress and acted rashly… It is really cumbersome. On the ship, I was the only one to wear a dress and be hampered by it…
-It must indeed be uncomfortable… And during your trip, have you met pirates?
-No. But I would have loved to… Mostly if I had a rapier like your father has and I was not wearing a dress. It must be so exciting to see a pirate! And fight a pirate!
-Oh oui! En effet!
Both the kids were suddenly excited at the idea of meeting a pirate. They began to tell stories they knew about pirates while walking farther in the courtyard. They came to a small river.
-You do have a nice river near your mansion. Do you swim often? Asked Ivy to Raphael. She also had a river behind her mansion where she often went swimming.
-Euh… Non. In fact, I don't know how to swim… answered the embarrassed boy.
-Ah? But it is easy…
Raphael gazed at the water and didn't seem too reassured. The river was small but deep enough to drown in it anyway… Ivy wondered if he was scared of the water. Maybe he was… She as a citizen of an island kingdom thought she must be more inclined to like water… She did love water; she loved to swim and somehow enjoyed her naval trip very much, like if she had the blood of a sailor in her veins… She took off her shoes and socks, raised her underwear pants and went to walk in the water, holding her dress.
-If only I could take off my dress, I could swim and I would show you how…
Raphael thought Isabella seemed to like to take off her clothes a lot…
-Euh… Non merci. I don't like water. It's full of fishes and leeches and things…
-You're scared of fishes?
-Non! I'm just… disgusted by them!
-Have you ever seen a shark?
-What is that?
-Big fish. That eats people.
Raphael's eyes widened. Ivy continued.
-But don't worry. They live in the sea, not in rivers. But they are big like that! At least four times my height!
And as she spoke, Ivy extended her arms as much as she could.
-… If people catch one, it must do many meat for a while… said Raphael in awe.
-Yes, but fishermen don't catch sharks very often since it's the shark that catches the people. They are lured by the blood people lose.
-Eww… How barbarian… Blood… It's disgusting!
-Yes, they are very savage and dangerous!
Sensing he was losing the unspoken contest now since he was looking more impressed than her and often seeing himself in some kind of competition because of his competitive nature, Raphael tried to change the subject. He would talk about a more terrifying creature. A supernatural creature.
-Well, for creatures liking blood, sharks are nothing compared to vampires… Vampires are far more dangerous…
-I don't know. I bet a vampire in the water would be as much eaten as a human…
-Aren't vampires supposed to be dead? I don't think the shark would want to eat a dead carcass…
-Well then if the vampire doesn't get eaten; it would not be because the vampire is more dangerous than the shark but only because he is a dead carcass. Anyway, sharks eat anything. Mostly a vampire who just drank blood since it will sense it.
-Yes, but if the shark is on land, the vampire would eat him. Well, take its blood. And another one: Sharks cannot eat ghosts, even in water…
-Probably not. But can the ghost attack it as well?
-Ghosts can be dangerous… We have a ghost in the mansion…
It was now Ivy's turn to widen her eyes; she seemed very interested. Raphael tried to impress Ivy even more and was about to invent some ghost story when both the kids suddenly heard:
Ivy and Raphael looked toward the mansion. The sun was beginning to set and both their fathers were now coming their way after noticing them. They were searching for them, it seemed… They were both very far but the children recognized their respective fathers.
-I think the reunion is over… said Raphael.
-Yes… And luckily, both our fathers are still alive… answered Ivy with a smile while Raphael gave her one as well.
-Well, it seems I have to leave. Merci beaucoup de votre, huh… gentillesse, Raphaël…
So, putting back her shoes and socks and then grabbing her skirt, Ivy began to run toward her father. But before she began to run, she told Raphael:
-Hum… You know… The things I told you about my father making alchemy and all…
-And the Soul Edge thing?
-Hum, yes. Huh… Well, don't talk about it, please. I… My father may have some problems if you do and be seen as a sorcerer…
Ivy was scared he would be burnt to the stake for this… She really had the feeling she talked too much… Raphael reassured her.
-Very well, I won't. I swear on my honneur. Promis. I will keep that alchemy and Soul Edge thing for me.
So her father was a sorcerer? That must be why she had white hair… Somehow Raphael was slightly scared of the father now but he also had fun with Isabella this afternoon… So he won't tell his own father about it. Anyway, Ivy and her family lived in England and what did it mattered that Isabella's father did magic there? But knowing this Soul Edge thing seemed interesting… Maybe one day he could go get that magical sword…
Once near their parents, Ivy went to her father who quickly took her hand while Raphael gazed at him with some questioning and awe.
-Ah, Isabella, we leave now. The reunion is over.
He then gazed coldly at the Count of Sorel who returned his cold stare. Both the children understood that nothing went well during the reunion and both parties now parted as hostile toward each other as before…
Even if he wasn't the most fanatical of the people present at the meeting, the Earl of Valentine also got involved in the negociation. And as the insults fused and never stopped between both camps, he became angry and lost his temper like everybody else in the room. The Count of Sorel was more devout but wanted to remain calm as well, yet he was also unable to and both the men ended up yelling at each other before they decided to go search for their children since it was getting late and the negociations were ending. At least, Raphael and Ivy's fathers had the common sense to remain civilized in front of their children and to go search together for them but Raphael and Ivy both had the feelings some very harsh words were exchanged before between both of them… Ivy sheepishly told Raphael:
-Well… au revoir, Raphaël…
-Adieu, Isabella… answered back Raphael while glancing at his father to see if his politeness was now reprehensible. But his father continued staring coldly at the Earl and ignored the children's departing words.
Then the English Earl and his daughter left like all the Protestants and the war began anew. Raphael and Ivy both thought they would never see each other again and forgot they even met each other on this day. They would only meet again twenty-four years later on not so good terms… All because of this evil sword they talked about: Soul Edge.