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Hello! Here I am. It is dark; the lovely sunshine we had today is gone. Still, there is always sunshine where my DomLijah is, so I'm happy. :D

I hope you have all had a lovely weekend, my dears - and are looking forward to the week ahead.

Anyway, here it is!


Grateful thanks, as always, to the lovely [livejournal.com profile] ladysunrope for beta.


Part - 28


Neither man stirred until Billy tapped the door at eight the next morning. They were still naked and wrapped in each others' arms, but Dom did not care. "Enter!" he called, and Billy came in as Elijah disentangled himself, and sat up, rather flushed of face, but perfectly composed.

"Good morning, my lords!" Billy said, in a soft voice. He was shaken, he had to admit to himself. Never before had he seen such an expression in his master's eyes. Before this, Elijah had always been, whatever the situation, perfectly composed, and in control of himself. But this morning, there was a secret hidden within him - a secret that spoke of hidden delights.

Billy smiled, happy for his beloved master, and for Dom, whom he was beginning to value as much as he did Elijah; but he smiled where the men would not see it - in his heart.

"I don't know whether your Highness has forgotten that he had been sent for, but the photographer has come up from Delhi. He has been at Simla for a week, recovering, apparently, from the journey."

Billy moved about the apartment, gathering the discarded nightwear, and trying very hard not to smile. He knew his story would be the better for it, if he did not.

"Fadi put him in a room in the servant's quarters, for he rode in, exhausted, I understand, last night, after we had all retired. Around midnight, I believe."

"The guard at the pass had captured him trying to ride in, in the dark, but fortunately for him, he had your Highness's invitation on him. He had misjudged how long it would take him to ride here from Simla. He had been informed, Fadi said, that the palace was one hour's ride from Simla. He thought he'd be here in time for dinner. Fadi provided some cucumber sandwiches, so I understand."

"Fadi thinks him a poor specimen of manhood, my lords. He did not even deem the man and his assistant worthy of housing in a modest guest chamber. Y'see, he is, Fadi said, not a gentleman, for he had the impudence to arrive at a king's palace wearing a green jacket, and sporting a red wig!"

For the second time in days, a shaking Dom spilled tea all over the silk coverlet. But this time, he was laughing.

*

Immediately after breakfast, Dom went to see Premal, Udai's servant. Billy was right, the man had had his eyes and ears open, and had definitely saved Dom's son from the assassin's bullet.

The man was calm and clear in his telling of the tale, and did not try to make more of it than there was.

"The man would have had the prince, my lord, had not Commander Boyd's man got to him first, and spoiled his aim.
Commander Boyd swore me to silence, my lord. An oath of Kali. I could not break it even to tell you, until he gave me permission."

Dom shivered. That was too close. He hoped both Billy and Elijah's letters to the queen would bear fruit. He wanted Udai to have a good education, as he had had - mixing with boys from different cultures and different ways of thinking. But he did not want it if Udai's life was in danger.

"I did write to you, immediately, Highness - before the Commander silenced me - apprising you of the dangers, but I am not certain that you received the letter. You see, bound as I was, I could not ask."

Dom did not answer the statement. Someone had intercepted it. Probably Rashman Singh - it did not matter, now. He rewarded the man lavishly, and left him dreaming of owning a new summer lodge in Simla.

He had left Elijah writing letters in the library, so Dom went to see Wafiya, who had slept well, and then visited the harem, to see his mother and children before going to the library. He found Elijah musing in a chair, a book in his lap, several letters on the desk in front of him.

"I will send Fadi to collect these, Elijah," Dom said, touching the correspondence with a long, elegant finger. "They will be despatched today."

"What are you reading?" he said, leaning against the table, grinning. Elijah held the book up, with a wry smile. It was a book of poems by Shelley.

"Well, it passed an enjoyable hour," Elijah remarked, replacing the book on the shelf. "I like poetry. What shall we do now?"

Dom straightened a volume or two on the table. "I think...yes, I think we should now receive Billy's photographer, do you not? In the medium-sized throne room; if his wig is as virulent as Fadi seemed to have suggested, I wish to be somewhat distanced from its glory."

They went, laughing, to find Fadi, and arranged a private audience. "I do not wish the man discommoded by Basmin's stare, and Arjit is arranging some family matters for me. We shall greet this photographer alone, you and I. Are we suitably clad, do you think, for an audience?"

As Dom was wearing a dark purple velvet jacket, hemmed in gold, with a grey silk turban bearing a large egret's feather and a circlet of diamonds and pearls, it was all Elijah could do not to laugh. It was, after all, Dom's idea of informal morning wear.

"You look very kingly, Udom Singh," Elijah twinkled at him. "But am I worthy of you? This coat is very plain. Except for the diamonds and sapphires I am wearing, of course."

Dom glanced about him before pushing Elijah into the nearest alcove. "Do not be so foolish, Lij! You are as beautiful as ever. If you were clad in a dhoti, with nothing else on, you..."

He kissed Elijah rather roughly, pressing him to the wall. The thought of Elijah dressed with only a strip of linen around his loins worked mightily on his imagination.

Several minutes later, Elijah straightened Dom's turban and rebuttoned his own jacket, and trousers, and they emerged from the curtained alcove, slightly flushed, and moved sedately onwards.

*

The second-best throne room was sumptuously dressed in gold and crimson, with pink silk carpets lining the floors. Fortunately, there were two thrones upon the dais, so the two men sat, side by side, as Dom insisted, and they took a minute to school their features ready for the appearance of the man in the red wig.

They were not disappointed in him. Elijah coughed slightly, disguising an involuntary chortle of laughter, as the man was ushered in, but Dom sat, impassive, staring at the confection the visitor wore upon his head. Neither could Elijah take his fascinated eyes off him.

He was a tall man, lean, but well muscled. He was classically featured, with dark brown eyes, and an athletic figure. However, he was dressed in tight black satin trousers and a coat of weird and wonderful design and colour. It was fashioned in the Chinese mode, of dark jade blue satin, reaching to his knees, and was embroidered all over with gold and silver dragons.

But it was the wig that drew their eyes. Fearfully and wonderfully made, and curled in bright auburn tresses, it towered above his head by at least six inches. It was tied, they saw, as he reverently knelt before them, at the nape of his neck, by a strip of golden ribbon. The ringlets fell from his forehead almost into his eyes. Elijah coughed again.

"Votre Majesté," the man began, as there was no-one there to announce him. Dom held his hand up, for a moment, and whispered to Elijah, "good Lor! They've sent a Frenchman!"

Dom waved his hand, languidly, giving permission for the vision to continue.

"Your Majesty..." he began again, rubbing his hands nervously together, "...I am desolate to appear before you thus attired, but more than half of my luggage fell off the wagon half way up the mountain, and went tumbling over the edge. I pray you will forgive me. The Chevalier Jean-Claude Dupont, my lord, at your service."

"And do you? Live by the bridge, as your name suggests?" Dom enquired, his face showing none of the mirth that bubbled up inside him. The man stared at the king as if his words made no sense.

Elijah glanced at Dom for permission to speak, and the very slight twitch of Dom's upper lip as the king tried to suppress a smile, was taken as assent.

"M. Dupont," Elijah remarked in perfect French, "we are as desolate as are you to hear of the loss of your luggage. A party will be sent to retrieve it, as soon as is possible. I trust your photographic equipment - your camera - did not suffer a similar fate?"

The man stood, at Dom's signal, and fastidiously brushed non-existent dust from the knees of his trousers. It was Dom's turn to cough.

The man bowed towards Elijah. "I am grateful to your...to your..."

"Highness," Dom supplied, in English, this time, once again in possession of his faculties - but only just, he thought.

"To your Highness," Jean-Claude repeated, in excellent English. If he was surprised at the change of language, he gave no sign of it.

"My camera - he is, I am joyful to inform you, safe and well. He is irreplaceable, you know. He is my life, after all!" he explained, anxious to get his point across.

Dom had never before heard of any piece of equipment spoken of as if it were a sentient being. He was fascinated by this odd creature, and so was Elijah.

"I will order a room put aside for you in the cellars, so that you may set up your dark-room there. I understand complete darkness is required, so you will be shown a selection of rooms my steward thinks suitable, and you may choose for yourself whichever you think best."

"Please join us for luncheon, at one thirty, in the Italian dining room. You will find present some of the people I wish you to photograph. Until then, you have our leave to withdraw." Dom said, his voice almost even.

M. Dupont hesitated. "Majesty, there is just one more thing, if I may ask it."

Dom nodded. "You may."

The man looked at the floor. "The room I was allocated last night, Majesty...it is a trifle...inadequate to my needs. When my clothing is restored to me, I will need a chamber as large as is that one, to house it. May I beg for something slightly...more commodious? My wig boxes, you see, take up much room."

Dom could not resist it. "How many boxes of wigs have you, M Dupont?"

The man bowed his head, again. "Thirty six, my lord."

Dom waved him away. "It shall be seen to," he said, before the man had bowed himself out.

When they had stopped laughing, Fadi was sent for and given instructions.

"I wonder," Elijah said, when they were alone again, "if all his wigs are red?"

"We shall invite him to dinner. Perhaps, by then, his luggage will be returned to him, then we shall see."

They decided to ride out for an hour, until luncheon, and on their return Dom asked if he could see the foal Rashman Singh had given to Elijah. He pronounced him a fine specimen.

"You would win prizes with him at Calcutta, Lij," Dom remarked as they left. "His dam was a splendid mount, as I remember. Do you like the races?"

Elijah grinned. "I've never been to any, Dom, I'm ashamed to say. I've attended polo matches, but only on private grounds. My father does not approve of gambling..." he tailed off. "But I would very much like to attend."

Dom grasped his hand. "I have a palace there - in Calcutta, I mean. We shall go, if it pleases you, and play a chukka or two of polo. One of my cousins keeps a fine string of ponies there. We could have such fun! Take the children, and Mama and the girls - perhaps Osman, too, to the races. I have a commodious private box on the course. I promise you, it will be delightful!"

Seeing the happiness on Dom's face as he mentally planned the treat, Elijah knew that, for him, too, it would indeed be delightful.

Before luncheon they said farewell to Vigran Singh, who was leaving - he had his own lands to rule. But he promised faithfully to meet them in Calcutta, for the races, when the next season started. He had two horses, he said, that he was hopeful would do well.

Dom had a short discussion with Basmin and Arjit Singh, before they went inside, to prepare them for the glory of M Dupont. But Dom and Elijah were destined for a surprise, when at one o'clock, they went to change their riding clothes for attire more suitable to the dining table.

Billy, doing up the tiny buttons of Elijah's tunic, cleared his throat. "My lords, I must tell you that Jean-Claude is not all he may appear. He is...one of my men."

Dom, dressed first, nearly choked on the sugared plum he was enjoying. "You mean he is an agent, Bill?" He could not have been more surprised if Billy had announced that the man came from the Moon itself.

Elijah grinned. "So he is not as odd as he looks? It is a disguise?"

Billy shook his head. "No, my lord, you are mistaken, there. Jean-Claude is everything that you see. His...oddness...as you put it, is not assumed. But he is, as well as being an original, a very clever man. We have worked together, on and off, since you were at Oxford, my lord. It was he who interviewed Udai Singh's potential assassin."

He looked at Dom as if he thought that Dom would be angry, but he was not. These days it would take a great deal more than this to make the king lose his temper.

"Did you send for him, Bill?" Dom asked. "Or is he here by chance?"

Billy slipped on Elijah's embroidered shoes, as he answered. "When I knew you had sent for a photographer, my lord, I asked that he come. He has a foothold in all the main society salons, you know. Apart from having a brilliant mind, he is an excellent photographer, and his work is much sought after by the crowned heads of Europe. He is renowned for his portraits. It is his main aim in life - to photograph beautiful people."

Dom laughed. "Well, he had best not take me as a subject, but rather Elijah." Then his face grew serious. "Why did you ask him to come?"

Billy shrugged. "I was not then certain how things would turn out, here, my lord. And Jean-Claude is the best that I know for winkling out information. He is so odd, you see, that folks rarely take him seriously. I wanted you to see him before I told you this. Did he make you laugh?"

Elijah wound his own turban as Billy helped Dom with his buttons. "He certainly did. I was not inclined to take him seriously at all. I thought him a fool."

Billy pinned on Dom's order, then stood back to admire his handiwork. "You'll do, my lord."

He continued. "That is Jean-Claude's charm. People are so fascinated by his manner and person, they do not notice that he is asking the most penetrating of questions, or gaining permission to wander about unsupervised. He also speaks nine languages, is knowledgeable in several of the arts, plays instruments, and teaches so well no-one would suspect he was not a teacher by profession."

"He was a tutor at Eton, my lord king, working with Udai Singh, for six months. It was why the would-be assassin was caught so promptly. Jean-Claude blamed himself for allowing the man to get so close. But he had been delayed by the headmaster, and by the time he had been released, so to speak, the man had attempted to shoot the prince."

"He taught him Greek, you know. He said the boy would have been far more advanced in the language, if he had had the teaching of him from the beginning."

Elijah was almost beyond being surprised by Billy, but this was astonishing. "Billy, how do you find the time to organise all these things? Especially in London, when we were packing to leave? Good, Lord, you must never have slept."

Billy smiled his sweetest smile. "You are the most lenient of masters, my lord. Had I been in attendance on the earl, your father, I could not have accomplished so much."

Dom was ever to the point. "What do you think the man can do, now it is all over?" he said, taking a handkerchief from Billy.

Billy brushed a speck of fluff off Elijah's shoulder. "I think that Udai Singh is safer here, my lord king. And Jean-Claude is an excellent tutor. You see, although I believe we are safe here, at last, I am not so sure about England - not at the moment. Until my investigations there are complete, I would keep Udai Singh under my eye."

Dom rose and held his hand out to Billy, who came forward and took it shyly. "I owe much to you, my friend - not least our lives, Elijah's and mine, but that of my son, also. Why did you do it - assume all the responsibility?"

Billy glanced at Elijah. "Because my master was coming here, and because I wanted him to be safe and happy in the place where he was sent."

"Because the Queen commanded it, and I am a loyal subject."

"Because I came to value you as a fair and righteous ruler, and, later, as a kind and generous man."

"Because I knew I could do it - so I did it."

Elijah came forward and grasped Billy's shoulders. "I hope that you will choose to stay with me, Billy. I am not leaving this place, except I go with Udom Singh; you must know that, by now."

A grin spread over Billy's face. "Aye, I've known it for a while, lad - er, my lord. And that's one reason I sent for Jean-Claude. If you're staying, then I'm staying. Well?" he said, meeting his master's eye with a steady look. "Ye didna want me to be without someone here, did ye?"

They were laughing as they went to luncheon, as Dom insisted on the presence of Commander Boyd at his table. No-one, knowing how valuable Billy had proved, would argue against it.

*

After luncheon, Jean-Claude and Billy went off to inspect new chambers, for Dom said that surely they would want to be nearer each other than was now the case.

"Where, in the palace, should we make our choice, my lord?" Billy asked, unwilling to overstep the mark between the royal family's designated areas, and the servants, and appear presumptuous.

"Anywhere you choose, Commander," Dom said, waving an expansive hand down a long corridor. "You may wander about the place and see what suits you best. I believe there is an excellent - and commodious - suite of rooms empty next to those of Prince Udai Singh, should you take a fancy to them."

Billy took the hint - he was by no means stupid.

Jean-Claude bowed low, nearly losing his wig in the process. He pushed it back in place before he spoke. "And tomorrow, Highness, I will be ready to photograph your handsome family. I shall spend this afternoon preparing for it."

Both Dom and Elijah found, to their delight, that they were looking forward to it. They had also spent a few minutes anticipating what Jean-Claude would be wearing to dinner that night. For, as he had happily informed them over the iced melon at luncheon - his luggage had arrived.


As they walked towards the outer doors, a thought struck Dom. "Three more days, and we shall rescue Cecil from Brian's clutches," he said, grinning. "I wonder what he will have to say concerning our new guest?"

Elijah ran his hand over a face wet from laughter, and dabbed at his eyes with Dom's handkerchief. "I wonder what he will say to anything, Dom, after a week in such...amiable company. If, of course, he is still capable of speech. A week is a long time amidst such beauties. It will be a pleasure to hear his opinion, in any case. "

Dom gingerly put the damp handkerchief back into his pocket.

It would be a pleasure, indeed.
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April 2011

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