For the first time in years, the Rohan family was gathered all together again, albeit missing one key member. They were all gathered in the study at Guémené, silently pondering their own grief. Belle, now widowed, sat in an armchair, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief as she tried to hold back sobs. Her daughter Marie leaned against the arm of the armchair, her hand on her mother’s shoulders, trying to comfort her as she tried to hold back tears of her own. Belle’s other daughter, Amélie, stood behind the chair, leaning against a bookshelf and hunched over as though she wanted to curl up and hide from the world. Across the room near the window and pacing back and forth restlessly was the eldest son, Beau. His inability to stand still contrasted sharply with his younger brother, Henri, who stood near his mother with his head hung lowed and staring sadly at the floor. As for the youngest of the group, the twins Louis and Philippe, they stood together against the far wall in silence, the shadows masking their presence and making it easy to forget they were even there at all. None of their spouses or children were present, for this was a personal affair for just those gathered.
The death of the head of their family, Louis de Rohan, necessitated this reunion for the reading of the will. None of them truly wanted to be there, for it forced them to yet again face the fact that their beloved husband or father was gone. Instead they had to wait as the judge sat down at the desk across the room and shuffled through his paperwork. When he was finally ready to begin, he cleared his throat and eyed the gathered family. They all let out a collective sigh and prepared for what was to come as the judge put on his spectacles and began to read aloud.
“I, Louis de Rohan, Prince de Guémené, Duc de Montbazon, Duc de Bouillon, Seigneur de Clisson, being of sound mind, do hereby declare this to be my final will and testament, and do hereby revoke any and all wills and codicils heretofore made jointly or severally by me….”
The judge droned on for some time, reading through the legal preamble that accompanied all wills. They all listened with detached interest, still trying to come to terms with the loss of their husband or father. Occasionally Belle would interrupt the rambling with a sob, with her daughters comforting her as she went through this most difficult process. Eventually they got to the meat of the will, learning what their husband or father had left behind for them.
“To my dearest Belle, the love of my life, the one whom guided me through my darkest of times, I leave a portion of my wealth so that she may live the life of a princess she deserves, as well as my entire collection of literature stored within the library at Guémené.”
Belle suddenly burst into tears, unable to hold it back anymore. She had always cherished the great library and spent countless hours in there. Louis had always known how much she loved the written word, and it had been a source of bonding between her and her husband. It was almost too much for her to bear.
After Belle’s sobs had subsided, the judge continued with his reading.
“To my children, Beau, Marie, Amélie, Henri, Louis, and Philippe, I leave a small portion of my wealth for them to properly provide for themselves and their family, so they and their children shall not want for anything.”
Amélie was beginning to sniffle, trying to hold back tears, while Marie was dabbing at the corner of her eyes. The men remained stone-faced, even if their eyes appeared a bit more moist.
“To my eldest son, Beau, I pass my titles as Prince de Guémené, Duc de Montbazon, Duc de Bouillon, and Seigneur de Clisson, as is his birthright and in accordance with the laws of succession, as well as grant him all estates associated with said titles.”
Everyone in the room remained in sullen silence, although Beau’s head had raised. His eyes narrowed, deep in thought as he watched the judge carefully, perhaps wondering if there was more to come that had been excluded. Surely there was still more to be mentioned as the eldest son of the deceased.
“And to my second son, Henri,--”
The judge paused for a moment as he cleared his throat and adjusted his spectacles, looking down intently at the will as if he had difficulty reading it. Louis’s children looked around at each other, Henri seeming particularly alarmed as his name had been mentioned before the pause. Beau continued to glare at the judge, as if he did it intensely enough, he would be able to read his thoughts and see what was going on. After offering an apology for the pause, the judge continued.
“And to my second son, Henri, who is hereby designated as the head of the household as my main benefactor, I leave the remainder of my assets, estates, properties, and wealth, including but not limited to the Hôtel de Rohan-Guémené, the Hôtel de Rohan-Montbazon, and all my shares and my position as co-owner in the Rohan-Descombes Manufacturing Company. May he carry on my family’s legacy in my stead.”
A few gasps filled the room, and Henri’s jaw dropped so low it looked as though it was about to fall off his face. All eyes turned towards Rohan’s second son, who no one had expected to have received the lion’s share of their father’s inheritance. It had been assumed that Beau, the eldest, would naturally inherit the most, especially after their father’s obsession with changing the inheritance laws to prevent the breakup of estates, but it seemed their father had had other plans. None were more surprised than Beau himself, who was now clenching his fists so tightly that his hands were turning red.
“Oh, Louis,” Belle said, gently shaking her head as she forced herself from her seat. She eyed her two eldest sons with a sad look as she walked towards Beau.
A piercing glare from Belle’s eldest son stopped her short. Practically snarling out his words, Beau said, “Did you know?” He rose to his full height, practically foaming at the mouth. “Did you know that Father intended to disinherit me?”
“Of course not,” Belle said, drawing closer and beckoning for a hug, wanting nothing more than to comfort her poor child. Beau was having none of it though and pushed her aside, perhaps a tad too roughly. She nearly stumbled to the floor, and Marie had to swoop in to grab her to keep her from falling. Amélie had stepped out from behind the armchair, a look of concern on her face.
Beau ignored the women in the room and turned his gaze to his younger brother. “You did this,” Beau said, pointing accusingly at Henri. “You poisoned Father’s mind, turned him against me.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Henri said, sputtering out a response. “I had no idea he was going to do this.” He was breathing heavily, struggling just to wrap his head around what was happening.
“It’s not Henri’s fault,” Belle said, tears streaming down her cheeks. “It’s not anyone’s fault. I don’t know why your father did this, but please don’t fight. We can figure things out.”
“I know exactly why he did this,” Beau said, the anger growing in his voice. “Henri has always been his favourite. He doted upon that sickly pathetic boy since he was a baby while he treated me like a stranger. He never loved me; he only cared about poor sickly Henri.” He gave Henri a scowl, the contempt clear in his eyes.
“No, no, no,” Belle said, her lip trembling. “Your father always loved you. Please, there is no need to fight.”
“Shut up,” Beau said with great force, drawing a gasp from both Marie and Amélie, who had moved to comfort their increasingly hysterical mother. Clutching at his hair, growing more agitated, Beau said, “Clearly Father wrote this during one of his bouts of illness. He wasn’t in his right mind; that has to be it.” He turned to the judge, who was awkwardly sitting at the desk in silence as he watched the family drama unfold. “You! When was this will written?”
The judge sputtered for a bit, not expecting the sudden question. He adjusted his spectacles and examined the document quickly. “1858, my good sir.”
“Your father was not ill then,” Belle said between sniffles. “I’m sorry, Beau. This should never have happened.”
“I told you to be quiet,” Beau said, anger overcoming him. “Father was mad, he had to be. We just didn’t realize it at the time.”
“Father was not insane,” Marie said with determination, stepping away from their mother to confront her older brother. “He may have been ill the last few years, but I spent more than enough time around him to know that he was of completely sound mind around the time he wrote that will.”
Unable to come up with an appropriate excuse, Beau suddenly declared, “The will is a forgery. That has to be it.”
The judge cleared his throat, cowering a bit as he became uncomfortable at the attention he was now receiving. “This will was properly signed and witnessed in accordance to French law. It is authentic.”
Spiralling into a full-on temper tantrum, Beau stomped one foot and said, “I will not accept this. That inheritance is mine by right.”
Henri took in a deep breath, watching his mother with concern as she practically fell to her knees sobbing. Building up his courage, he faced his older brother and said, “This is exactly why Father chose me over you.”
Beau’s gaze shifted his way and it took all of Henri's strength not to cower before the intimidating glare of his brother. Often he had succumbed to just a scathing look, always fearful of his brother’s aggressive nature, but not this time. Puffing out his chest and standing as tall as he could, which was not much with him being barely over five feet in height, Henri said, “Father chose me over you because you are a self-entitled petulant brat with anger issues and the intelligence of a donkey. He trusted me with his legacy because unlike you I am not an ill-tempered ape prone to drink and gamble my fortune away. No doubt if you had inherited everything of worth, you would have squandered it in a few years and smeared the Rohan family name into the dirt.”
Everyone’s jaw dropped, shocked by the sudden outburst from their often polite and well-spoken brother or son. Beau seemed most taken aback, shaking his head as if unable to even comprehend Henri’s words. Still feeling the high from standing up to his bully of a brother, Henri said, “No matter how much you whine and moan, Father left his inheritance to me. He intended for me to continue on his legacy, and I shall do whatever it takes to live up to that expectation. I will not disappoint him as he must have expected you would.”
“How dare you speak to me like that,” Beau said, stepping towards his brother with his fists raised. “I’ll beat some sense into you.”
Henri backed away as he was confronted by his brother. Belle was now sobbing hysterically on the floor as her family fell apart around her. Fortunately Marie still held on to her senses and stepped to her brother’s defence. She rushed towards Beau and grabbed him by the forearm. “Stop it. You’re upsetting Mother.”
Beau let out an angry grunt, grabbed his sister by the wrist, and wrenched her grip free. She let out a gasp and attempted to twist herself free with little success. He then pushed his sister aside, unceremoniously throwing her to the floor. Belle let out another heavy sob at the sight of her children fighting, and Amélie unsuccessfully attempted to calm her down.
Henri, who had had enough of seeing his brother first yell at his mother and now assault his sister, let reason escape him for once. He grabbed the first object he could find, a golden candlestick sitting on a nearby end table, and hurled it at his eldest brother. It collided with his brother’s jaw with a dull thud and knocked him back a step or two. After rubbing his aching jaw, Beau locked a piercing gaze on his younger brother, and Henri knew he had made a grave mistake.
“I’ve had enough of this,” Beau said, spitting out each word. “I will not let you steal my inheritance.”
Beau reached towards his belt, and everyone’s eyes widened as they realized he was reaching for the revolver at his side. As he drew the weapon, Belle, who had risen to her feet once more, let out a gasp and promptly fainted to the floor, only to be saved at the last minute by Amélie catching her. Knowing himself to be the intended target, Henri attempted to dive to the side, aiming for behind the armchair his mother had sat at earlier. Meanwhile, Marie, who had risen back to her feet and saw what her older brother was doing, rushed headlong at her brother and dived for his waist.
This all happened in the matter of a few seconds. Henri dodged to the side, panic clear on his face as he awaited the potentially fatal shot. Marie collided with Beau’s torso, wrapping her arms around him and carrying him to the floor. Despite being a woman, she was unusually strong and was more than capable of tackling her brother. Regardless, she was not quite quick enough, and a bang filled the room as the gun went off.
Everyone else in the room could only watch as Beau’s and Henri’s bodies hit the floor. Carried down by the weight of Marie, Beau hit the floor hard, his head bouncing off the hardwood and knocking him unconscious. The smoking gun skittered away, released from his grasp. Henri landed more gently but let out a deep grunt followed by an agonizing scream. Blood was streaming from his left leg, and it was soon clear that the bullet had found its mark.
Everyone was too stunned to react, that is until Belle regained consciousness. Seeing her one son lying unconscious and her other one bleeding out on the floor, she let out a piercing shriek and rushed to Henri’s side. “My baby. What has happened to my baby?”
Amélie followed her mother, and noticing that the wound continued to bleed, proceeded to rip off part of her dress to wrap around the wound and staunch the bleeding. She ripped off another piece and tightly wrapped it around higher up the leg, having read somewhere that it would help stem the flow of blood to the leg. Across the room, Marie grabbed the revolver and checked on the brother she had just tackled to the floor. He remained unconscious, probably for the best. The youngest brothers, Louis and Philippe, had not left their corner of the room the entire time, too in shock to react at all.
Slowly everyone gathered around the wounded Henri de Rohan. His eyelids fluttered as he faded in and out of unconsciousness. His leg hurt immensely, but he could barely even focus on that. He could faintly hear his mother crying off to the side and the whispers of encouragement his sister gave him as she attempted to treat his wound. There was a flurry of conversation after that, but he could not make out a word. He was beyond hearing at that point as he finally blacked out, not knowing if he would ever see his family again.
* * * * *
Henri Rohan rode in a carriage through the streets of Paris accompanied by his mother Belle. He watched the buildings pass by through the window in silence. Neither he nor his mother were in the mood for conversation, not after what they had gone through. After the reading of the will and the subsequent violent squabble, Henri had been rushed to a surgeon to treat his wound. Unfortunately for him, there were not too many skilled surgeons to be found in Brittany, and the one who ended up treating him was certainly not the best. While the man had managed to seal the wound and stop the bleeding, he had failed to remove the bullet, claiming it was far too close to a major artery to remove. It remained lodged in Henri’s thigh, where it occasionally brushed up against a nerve, sending a spasm of pain down his leg and seizing it up. He was now forced to walk with a cane to compensate for the new limp he had developed. He had already looked short and sickly before, but now the cane and the limp surely completed the look.
The damage to Henri’s leg paled in comparison to the damage done to his family. Reconciling with his brother seemed an impossibility now. Beau would never forgive him unless Henri gave him what he saw as his rightful inheritance, which meant absolutely everything his father had given him. The chance of that was slim to none, for their father had clearly intended Henri to be his chosen successor and he was not going to disrespect that decision, even if it cost the family any form of unity. Beau would have to learn to live with what he had been given, the titles and lands that had been passed down by Rohan men for generations. If Henri could live with not being the Prince de Guémené or Duc de Montbazon, Beau could learn to live with knowing he was not his father’s chosen successor.
Henri couldn’t help but laugh at that last thought. Beau would certainly not be coming to terms with what had happened any time soon. After what had happened at the reading of the will, they had had to lock Beau up in the tower at Guémené for a few days to give him time to calm down. He had ranted and raved for days, trashing the furniture and swearing vengeance on his younger brother. Even after he had calmed down and was let out of the tower, Henri could still see the murder in his eyes. He was not going to let it go that easily. In the end, it had been blackmail that had forced his hand. Not wanting to live in fear of his brother his whole life, Henri made it quite clear that if Beau attempted to come after his inheritance, he would let the world know about his attempted kinslaying. Only that threat of exposure had brought a temporary end to the conflict. They had then all agreed that if anyone asked about Henri’s new wound, they would claim it was the result of a hunting accident. The judge had also been paid off for his silence, although if Beau decided to make the inheritance an issue, he could prove a compelling witness. If Beau wasn’t careful though, Henri had no qualms telling everyone how he had truly developed the limp that now plagued him.
The carriage came to a halt with a creak, drawing Henri’s attention. They had arrived at the Hôtel de Rohan-Montbazon, his father’s home in Paris. Henri shook his head at that last thought. No, not his father’s home, but his now. His father had given this place to him, and now it would be his home. He stepped out of the carriage carefully, leaning against his cane to avoid falling.
After stepping out, Henri glanced back at his mother and offered to help her out of the carriage. She took his hand and stepped out gingerly, seeming so much smaller and frailer than she used to. Recent events had taken their toll on her. She would have loved nothing more than to spend the rest of her days in Guémené, the place she felt closest to her late beloved. That was no longer a possibility. Guémené belonged to Beau now, and after his recent display Henri could not trust his older brother to watch over their mother. It had not helped that Beau had bitterly pointed out that Henri was the designated head of the household in their father's will and thus caring for their mother was his responsibility. He hated to take his mother away from the home she loved, but he would not leave her alone with Beau. She would be safe under his care here in Paris, even if she would be unlikely to be happy.
Stopping outside the front door, Henri took a moment to admire the Hôtel de Rohan-Montbazon. His father had worked so hard to acquire this property, one of many that he viewed as part of his family’s legacy. Pride swelled inside him knowing that his father had trusted him with it. He would not let his father down. With a sigh of relief, feeling relaxed for the first time in days, Henri said, “It’s good to be home.”
Belle looked up at the Hôtel for a moment, her eyes teary and wet. She took in a deep breath and stepped towards the door. Before grabbing the door handle, she said, “This isn’t home. Home is wherever your family is, and I don’t know if I have one anymore.”