Antoine: 3 DD
Nadine: 3 DD
Pierre: 3 DD
Victor: 3 DD
GM: 4 DD
The late Summer sun soared through the Montaigne skies, defying the frumpy monarch sat at the center of his own terrestrial solar system in his decidedly less-luminous Chateau only, say, thirty or so miles away. The Comte was riding high in his seat, and chatting about old times no doubt, with his old war comrades, Eddard and Etienne, seemingly oblivious to the dark shadow his absence at court was clouding over his life's career. In truth, Gerard-Mathieu Legrand, the Comte d'Essonne, was only too well aware that snubbing l'Empereur's invitation to his hundred and seventeenth Summer Garden Party so far this year, and choosing instead to retire temporarily to his own holdings for a taste of fresh air and solitude, would set back most, if not all, of the progress he had made getting on the temperamental king-of-the-world's good side.
For it was precisely the sort of thing l'Empereur held those interminable garden parties, balls, get-togethers, and royal how-d'ya-do's to prevent. The noblesse could easily be controlled and cowed by the reflected brilliance of the Sun King's lustre, provided they stayed forever detained, and entertained, at his court and never returned to their own homes where they could secretly plot against him. There was no law preventing it, of course, but wily old King Leon had a near-perfect memory, and if you wanted any royal favor (and the lucrative titles and positions that came with it) you had to pay court to him every single time it was in session. And really, it never wasn't.
And perhaps that's precisely what gave the truant Comte's seat astride his bay gelding such a guiltily jaunty air. He was being missed by potentially the most demanding pair of eyes on the planet, and he couldn't have been happier. The Comte's visits home were exceedingly rare, as they were for any Montaigne noble with even a shred of ambition, but the mere fact of being away from the unceasing competition, scheming, backbiting, brown-nosing, gossiping, and proxy-dueling of the Sun King's Court did his health far more good than even the fresh air and exercise could have done, and he seemed to be having nearly as much fun as little Wyatt who was whooping and hollering in delight (scaring all the nearby game clear out of the county, no doubt, ruining the stated goal of the day, and setting off grumpy old Monsieur Leclercq's dyspepsia) while he capered about through the underbrush excited beyond reason to be out on his first hunt with his dad.
The Comtesse lingered behind on her roan mare, riding slowly and enjoying the gossipy company of Mlles. Leroux and Garcia, and, of course, young Jacinthe, who not too long ago would have been joining her brother in exasperating the Comte's master of the hunt, rather than sitting primly on a pony, and trying to be grown up. Scattered about in a loosely dispersed formation were the rest of the Comte's guards, those not privileged to have served with him in the Eisen war, and thus relegated to the not-all-that-bad-after-all task of strolling through the sunshine, and keeping an eye out for whatever could possibly pass for danger this close to the center of Montaigne's power.
Mayhew and Maurice were well ahead, holding the leashes of the dribbling, snuffling and delightedly growling former occupants of the Comte's kennels under Soren Leclercq's watchful eye (the one that wasn't busy shooting nasty looks at the Comte's youngest child). Well behind the troupe, the remainder of the Comte's household that made up the twenty-strong hunting party that had set out from the Chateau de Montlhéry busied itself with last-minute preparations for the scrumptious picnic that would be wanted whenever the Comte and Comtesse finally stopped pretending they were looking to actually shoot anything.
In short, the day was going swimmingly. In the middle of the pack, Antoine the Comte's brother, Pierre his ward, and Victor his chaplain rode in a clump, deep in conversation. Antoine and Pierre had just returned with the Comte from Charouse, Antoine for possibly the last time in the foreseeable future, as King Leon had subtly disinvited him from future events over a verbal confrontation between the Vicomte and Lady Jamais Sices du Sices. As for Victor, he had just arrived back at the Chateau from his errand to l'Évêché d'Étampes, and the cathedral of his childhood, where he had been tasked with the brain-bruising task of hand-delivering a thank you note to the Bishop, offering the Comte's gratitude for the Most Reverend's latest birthday gift, and extending a polite invitation to this very soirée, which everyone knew the Bishop lacked the good health to attend, and so surprised no one with his polite refusal. Not far away strode Victor's twin sister, Nadine, who was tasked with guarding the party's center from the unlikely possibility of attack.