Category/genre: YA Adventure
Author: Sophia Beaumont
Chosen by editor Jeni Chappelle
In 1775, Quebec joined forces with America to declare independence from England. Marie Antoinette fled another revolution around the same time, becoming Monarch in Exile and establishing a constitutional monarchy in the New World. Ninety years later, the Republic of Quebec, under the influence of their matriarchal leaders, is the first country to grant equal rights to all citizens, regardless of gender.
Louise Drapeau is willing and eager to take advantage of these rights as she travels from her small town to the capital to join the most elite fighting force in the country, the Queen’s Guard, also known as the Musketeers. She’s barely in the city twenty-four hours, however, when she uncovers a plot to kill the queen, headed by Quebec’s First Minister, Cardinal Lefebvre.
With the help of her three new friends—Portia, Athena, and Arabella—Louise must unravel the increasingly complex politics of the palace in order to save not only the queen, but to keep neutral Quebec out of the Civil War raging just a few hundred miles south in the United States.
Surely this will be enough to get her into the musketeers—if she can survive.
The bluish shadow of the city rose up before me, like Aphrodite emerging from the sea. My heart quickened at the sight of it. I could already feel the rumble of the elevated trains, see the floating specks of hot air balloons as they lowered into the airfields to the east and south.
“We’re almost there, girl,” I told Bijou, patting the back of the horse’s neck.
The road curved, the trees parted, and a town appeared between us and the bridge leading to the island of Montréal.
Though I was itching to get into the city—the city—I didn’t want my first impression to be one covered in road dust and sweat. At any rate, it was late. The sun was already hidden behind the trees, and lights were coming on in the village.
With a sigh as reluctant as my mount, I pushed down the impulsiveness pushing me forward and directed Bijou to a roadside inn, staring longingly at the high, arched bridge looming ahead.
A boy ran out from the stable. He held the reins as I dismounted. I gave him a coin and directions for Bijou’s care, then made my way to the inn. The smell of beef stew made my stomach growl.
I stretched a little as I strolled toward the front door. Through the window, I could see the hostess, just lighting the lamps for the evening. By their light, I spied a cluster of men seated around a corner table, tankards and bowls of stew spread out in front of them.
The ring leader raised an eyebrow as I entered, removing my hat and brushing dust from the wide brim.
I caught the eye of the hostess, and she came over, bobbing a curtsy. “What can I do for you, mademoiselle?”
“It’s Louise. Louise Drapeau. And I’d like some dinner, please. And a room for the night.”
She nodded, smiling, and scurried off to the kitchen. But not before I caught a playful wink and noticed the violets embroidered on her apron—the symbol of the sapphists.
I spotted a newspaper on the gentlemen’s table, and nodded toward it. “Do you mind?” I asked.
One of them curled a lip. “Can you even read, peasant?”
I glanced down at my riding costume—flared trousers tucked into tall boots and a cropped jacket—and felt my face flush. My mother had stayed up all night before I left, adjusting the cut of the jacket so I would have something smart to wear on my first day in the new city. It was very flattering, I thought.
His friends were joining in now, making fun of what was apparently a very provincial outfit.
I schooled my expression into a smile. “I’m sorry, I know we’re a little old fashioned in Saint-Jérôme. For example, we still learn common courtesy and manners.”
The grin dropped off the man’s face and he jumped to his feet. “What did you say to me?”
“Only that of the two of us, you appear to be the one whose education was neglected.”
The hostess returned to the dining room, arms loaded with my dinner and another pitcher of beer for the men, but she let out a little cry when she saw the two of us facing off and hurried back into the kitchen.
His friends rose around him, but I hardly glanced in their direction. His hand rested lightly on the hilt of his sword.
I rolled my eyes, dropping my bag onto the closest table. My weapons were bundled up with it, since I hadn’t needed them on the road. I wondered if I would be fast enough to pull one out. “And here you’re calling me old fashioned. Do you carry a sword because you want everyone to know you’re rich enough to get away with dueling, or is it because you’re so short sighted you can’t aim a pistol?”
I’m not an expert in human anatomy, but I’m pretty sure the giant purple vein in his forehead wasn’t supposed to be there. He made an inarticulate noise somewhere between a growl and a scream and lunged at me.
Sidestepping easily, I drew the long knife sticking out from my bag in one swift movement. My opponent drew his sword. It gleamed, even in the shadows of the inn, gas light catching the thin silver blade and the gold basket covering his hand.
My maneuvering put the door at my back. Keeping one eye on the angry noble and the other on his friends, I lead him outside like leading a particularly vicious dog with a piece of meat.
I hate it when I have to be the meat.
Streaks of blood red and purple painted the sky as I backed into the dusty yard in front of the building.
He jabbed angrily, and I danced out of the way. Another wild swing, in which he used the rapier more like a club and once again didn’t come close to hitting me. Then he stepped back, gathered himself, and settled into a practiced stance.
His next swing wasn’t wild. I still managed to dodge, but he was ready, and I had to put up my knife to block the next attack.
My mind cleared, relaxing into the flow of the fight. All of my senses felt heightened, even as my focus narrowed to just the task ahead of me. I saw the next move he would make before he did. I calculated my chances of making a hit. They weren’t good. He was well trained, at least a head taller than me, and he had the superior weapon and reach. I would have to get under his guard somehow, or maybe distract him—
Before I could formulate a plan, he swung the rapier in a sweeping arc, which I blocked with the knife.
My knife was a long hunting knife, about the length of my forearm and hand, with a thick steel blade. Part of one edge was serrated, for cutting through tough hide and rope.
His thin blade caught on those teeth. Without thinking, I twisted my wrist, deflecting the blow with a circular motion, the way I would if I’d had my sword.
The rapier snapped like a twig. For a moment, he stood there, staring in disbelief.
By then, all his friends had come out to watch. They lined up in front of the door just in time to see their companion lose the duel, the broken end of his sword flying across the yard and landing with a splash in the water trough by the hitching post.
I blinked twice, almost as stunned as he was. Then, he let out a yell. “Cheat!”
He and three of his friends surged forward, setting on me. I turned to run, but the way was blocked by a carriage, apparently pulled up as we’d been fighting. I’d been too engrossed to notice.
Before I could find a way around it, one of them grabbed the back of my jacket, throwing me to the ground. I landed hard on my back, all the air wooshing from my lungs. I had just enough time to roll onto my side and cover my head, tucking my knees up to my chest before they attacked, blows raining down on me. Something hit my face, and I tasted blood. A sharp toe struck my back. It was all I could do not to scream.
“There, now! That’s enough,” drawled a masculine voice.
The blows petered to a stop, slowly. I kept up my defensive poise, just in case.
Cracking one eye open, I peered through my fingers. In the dying light, a shadow strode toward us.
“M’lord, I didn’t mean—She started it!”
The shadow waved a hand. As he got closer, his face swam into focus. I recognized him from their table at the inn. Tall, handsome. Dark hair sweeping to one side, and bright blue eyes. He was dressed in the latest fashion, at least as far as I could tell. Usually the only reason to mix that many kinds of plaid was because someone did it at court.
“M’lord” held out a hand to me as they parted around us. I hesitated, but took it. He pulled me to my feet.
“My dear, I do apologize for my friends. We’ve been traveling for several days, and I’m afraid they have some pent-up energy still. Two weeks at sea will do that.”
He gave me a smile that he clearly thought was full of charm. I pulled my hand back quickly. “Um, thank you, monsieur.”
“You aren’t injured, I hope?”
I could feel a small army of bruises underneath my clothes, and really didn’t want to look in a mirror, but I smiled anyway. “I’m fine.”
“Good, good. I would hate to see a lovely young girl like you hurt.”
“Well, I’m fine.” Why did his manner grate me so? He made lovely young girl sound like an insult.
He leaned forward, the stench of his cologne wafting into my face as the breeze changed directions. I tried not to cough. Before he could say anything, however, one of his men interrupted.
“Ah, M’lord? We should be going. The last train into the city leaves in ten minutes, and we don’t want to be late meeting his highness.”