Henry III is Crowned King of France at Rheims
He kneels, dizzy in the thick mix of oils and incense, as the procession of monks approaches the high altar. Like all the kings of France since Clovis, he will be anointed with the contents of the holy relic the monks carry.
Another monk won’t be so reverential, seven years from now. A Dominican friar, frenzied and fanatical, he’ll leave a knife in his king’s belly before he goes to his reward. Henri will follow him shortly, the last of the Valois kings. A long line erased by religion, seed exhausted, replaced with sturdy Bourbon blood instead.
When he is born, his Medici mother will know from the first that she loves him the best. Chers yeux, she calls him. Precious eyes. His brothers will hate him for the soft ways he learns from her. She will teach him to read and write, to love art, to be wise and to wage but always despise war. Most of all, she will keep him a Catholic, even as he longs to rebel, to fall into Protestantism. She will keep him a Catholic and it will eventually kill him.
During the Revolution they’ll haul poor Henri from his long rest in the family grave; they’ll molest his bones beyond what death can do. Finally they’ll toss what’s left of him into a common plot, brushing the dust of the tomb from their hands and dreaming away all kings. His spirit, unsettled and lost, will cry for his mother, will cry for the perfumed neck and the warm lap and the sweet, light voice lulling her chers yeux to sleep, to sleep, to sleep.
But now he struggles for wakefulness, wades knee-deep in the blessings of his people and God. Now the archbishop lifts the Crown of Charlemagne from the altar, holds it aloft, sets it heavy and hard on Henri’s head. Henry III of France rises, ascends the throne, waves to the people as the shout rolls through the cathedral: Vive le roi! And yes, today he lives, and he will live until he dies, until the failures of the future come washing down the back roads of time, and he is pulled under and drowned forever.