The Moment of Gratuitous Coolness
When I was a teenager, I inhaled the works of Alexander Dumas, one of which was MARGUERITE DE VALOIS. The story centers around King Henry of Navarre, a protestant, and his unwilling wife, Marguerite. Henry rules Navarre, a large province, and is technically a king in his own right, but he owes his allegiance to France. Unfortunately he is trapped at the French court at the time of St. Valentine’s day massacre, during which Catholics mass-murdered French protestants.
Henry’s wife, Marguerite, is a part of a large Catholic family that rules France. She is the daughter of Catherine de Medici and sister to Charles, the monarch of France. Catherine de Medici deeply hates Henry, both because he is a Protestant and because of some past business with his mother and she is continuously scheming to murder him somehow, in such a way as to not cause a war with the powerful province of Navarre. Catherine de Medici is a deeply evil character. She poisons, she schemes, she uses her children as pawns. She is this unstoppable malevolent force and she stalks the palace like a panther waiting to pounce.
In the novel, Henry and Marguerite are married against their wishes. They do not consummate the marriage, but out of sheer self-defense, they form a secret political alliance with each other. Henry is seduced by Madame de Sauve, one of Catherine’s maids of honor. He makes nightly pilgrimages to her bedroom. One night, Marguerite sends him a note asking him to come to her bedroom instead of that of his mistress. Henry arrives in her bedchamber, where they discuss strategy, but before they can get anywhere, they receive word that Catherine de Medici has left her rooms and is heading to Marguerite’s chamber. Quickly Henry strips and dives into the bed, behind the curtains. Marguerite cuts the laces of her gown, rips off her hair dress, and jumps into her bed next to her husband.
Catherine de Medici enters this bedchamber. Marguerite springs out of her bed, terribly surprised, kisses her hand and bats her eye lashes. Catherine sits down and proceeds to make her case for Henry’s demise. She is trying to blatantly manipulate Marguerite in helping her destroy Henry, arguing that he is obviously not suited to be the husband of the Princess of France. Why, everyone knows that Henry and Marguerite haven’t slept together and what’s more, Henry is clearly slapping Marguerite in the face with this terrible affair with his mistress. Catherine is simply heartsick over seeing her daughter so badly treated by that boorish ruffian. At this point Marguerite raises her hand and says, “Shh, mother, please not so loud.” Catherine de Medici asks why she should be quiet. Marguerite rises, pulls back the bed curtains and says, “Because you’ll wake my husband.”
Catherine stands there, stares at Henry for a long minute, as if she’d seen Gorgon Medusa’s head with snakes instead of hair, and marches out of the chamber, seething.
It is a moment of pure gratuitous coolness. There were other scenes in the novel, heartbreaking, poignant, tragic, romantic, but years later this is the scene I remember best. It is a magic instance of complete surprise, half ingenuity, half coincidence, with the stars aligning just right so the protagonists could for a moment triumph against an overpowering foe in a battle they had no chance of winning.
I love these moments. They are my absolute favorite part of reading. Such moments give you a little thrill and you tend to remember them forever. It’s the moment of Jessica Trent shooting Sebastian Ballister in LORD OF SCOUNDRELS. It’s the moment that makes you go, “Ha!” and “Oh my God!”
I’d like to read about your favorite moment of gratuitous coolness. It can be from books or movies, from any genre. Comment on this post and one of the comment authors will get a set of signed books from our Edge Series: ON THE EDGE and BAYOU MOON.
Ilona Andrews is the pseudonym for a husband-and-wife writing team. “Ilona is a native-born Russian and Gordon is a former communications sergeant in the U.S. Army. Contrary to popular belief, Gordon was never an intelligence officer with a license to kill, and Ilona was never the mysterious Russian spy who seduced him. They met in college, in English Composition 101, where Ilona got a better grade. (Gordon is still sore about that.)
Gordon and Ilona currently reside in Oregon with their two children, three dogs and a cat. They have co-authored two series, the bestselling urban fantasy of Kate Daniels and romantic urban fantasy of The Edge.