Versailles, 1623

Adam McOmber


On the morning of the hunt, the light was so pale my men carried torches. There, beyond the stables, I was granted a vision. The sky above Saint-Germaine-en-Laye opened to me, and a marble hall appeared. A thousand candles burning. And there was music too—the sort my father once bade his court musicians to play. I heard the sound of a harpsichord. A dreaming melody, perhaps composed by Lully or Delalande. I thought of my wife, still in our bed. During the night, she'd complained of spirits on the stairs. They woke her, she said, moving stealthily on bandaged feet. They were children, teeth bared and gleaming. They wore garlands of the sepulture. Their once-bright lips and eyes were black and crusted with the brine of decay.

I did my best to soothe my wife. "There are no such children," I said.

"How do you know, my lord?" she asked.

"Because I am the king," I replied. "And I would not allow such a thing."

But on the morning of the hunt, I watched the sky reach down for me—a giant's finger pressing against a blue membrane. Something wanted to break through. Something that lived there in the sky. It wanted to reach me.

My men had already released the hounds. And the hawk made circles above. Soon we found ourselves at the edge of the Woods of Marley. Shadows fell from the turning blades of a windmill on the hill. Sheets of silence moved across my steed. It was as if day and night were suddenly one and the same.

I did not pursue the stag that morning. Nor did I use my longbow. Instead, the creature came from the woods, its great rack of antlers the color of ivory. The stag knelt, delicately, before me. I used my sword to pierce its muscular throat, moving my blade through flesh. The color of the animal's pelt was the color of the palace I would build one day on that very spot: a pure and regal cream. And the blood was a marbled blue. The animal's eyes were gilded. And when its throat was finally open, I saw a hall of mirrors shining there amongst its bones.

The palace at Versailles—my own creation—was to stand for all of time, like the house of Augustus on Palatine Hill. I built it there where I felled the stag. Walls rose from the earth. Every tower bore a watchful eye. Every brick was haunted.

I remembered my father once saying, "Take heart, or I have conquered the world." I let him hold me then in his arms and I wept at such a thought. I wondered if I too would one day be so strong.



"The gods," I told my wife when I returned from the Woods of Marley, "they've always hunted. But none I think has ever hunted as well as me."

I was covered in the stag's glorious blood. Covered in gold and mirrors.

I didn't tell her about the sky. Or how it reached for me. I didn't dare.