Extract from Chapter One
The mirror stands in the middle of the room, facing away from the windows, so that the light falls on the observer and not the glass. The man before the mirror is dressed in ruffled scarlet embroidered with gold thread. His dark hair falls over his shoulders in extravagant curls. He has a high-bridged nose, a well-shaped mouth, and eyes with an almost oriental slant. He exudes an aura of regal power, even as he gazes at himself.
Behind him is a man some 20 years older, dressed in black, the only concession to finery being the lace collar of his shirt. His hair is dark, his eyes watchful, his forehead habitually frowning as if calculating figures, his mouth in contrast sensitive, almost feminine. He is the most powerful man in France after the King. He is the King’s Controller of Finances. The duty of the most powerful man is to attend on the King, while at the same time running the country. The attending takes up more time than he likes to think about, and means interpreting the King’s mood as well as his plans. There are days when the King is unusually quick to anger and on these days, the all powerful Colbert is apt to develop a nervous tic to the eyelid.
This is not one of those days, for Louis is pleased with what he sees. He examines his handsome face in the mirror, staring deep into the shining black of his irises, and stretches out his hand to touch the glass. He can see the newly shaved indentations of his skin, each hair of the delicate moustache that echoes the arch of his brows. He smiles at the reflection of Colbert behind him.
“This is the finest mirror I have seen. From Venice?”
“Inevitably. From the mirror-makers of Murano. They are the only people who can make mirrors like this.”
“It is like meeting yourself, face to face.”
He runs a finger around the reflected outline of his mouth. Imagine, he says to his image, imagine a whole wall of these mirrors, no, a hall, a hall of mirrors, reflecting the beauty around them. Imagine five hundred people reflected into thousands, the mirrors facing each other, so your image is visible on all sides. Mirrors reflecting your expression even when you’re not looking at them. You will be able to catch them unawares, and read their thoughts when they think they are unobserved. Imagine my court surrounded by mirrors. Not one of them will be able to dissemble, their images will betray them. I see that Colbert is frowning. He is thinking of money.
“How much did it cost?” he asks.
“Far too much, Your Majesty will be sorry to know. The mirror-makers of Murano are the only ones who know the secret of creating clear mirrors. Their price is exorbitant. It cost 1000 livres.”
Louis looks at his reflection, and gasps, “Venetian robbers! But I am dreaming of my kingdom of mirrors. Exercise your ingenuity, Colbert. Get them here.”
“I have tried. The Venetian republic knows their value, and they are not allowed to leave.”
“You can get them here, Colbert. I rely on you.”
The dark eyes reflect a fathomless blackness, the anger that lies in the depths of the King like an underground lake. There is nothing to be done when it begins to rise to the surface, but to agree to the royal will.
The two men turn from the mirror and leave the room. The mirror continues to reflect the space they had filled, images of baroque carving, of hunting tapestries. Insentient, yet all seeing.
There is a click of high-heeled shoes on the marble floor, and a new image enters the mirror’s unconscious eye. It is that of a woman, dressed in embroidered blue silk, a silver edged lace fichu at her neck. At a distance, she stops and stares at the mirror, then slowly, as if by magnetic force, she is drawn towards it, until she stands before it, unmoving, locked in her own image. She gazes at herself, taking in the clear skin, the intense blue of the eyes, the chestnut curls of her elaborately dressed hair. She has never seen herself in such detail. Why, I really am beautiful, she murmurs, and then the thought flickers through her mind, How frightening this mirror will be one day. But in the meantime, the image is perfect, and Athenais continues to look at the glass, smiling.
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