Title: ALL FOR ONE
Category/genre: YA Adventure
Author: Sophia Beaumont
Editor: Jeni Chappelle
Original version here.
In 1862, the Republic of Quebec has a constitutional monarchy, established ninety years before by Marie Antoinette, who fled France’s revolution. Under the influence of its matriarchal leaders, Quebec 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 all-female 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 not only save 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. With a sigh as reluctant as my mount, I pushed down the impulsiveness driving me forward and directed Bijou to a roadside inn, staring longingly at the high, arched bridge looming ahead. I paused to stare. It was a feat of architecture unlike anything in the small village I’d left behind. The sight of something so foreign made me ache for home.
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. Even if I pushed ahead, it would be after ten o’clock when I arrived and no one would see me then.
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. They gave a warm golden glow that made her heart-shaped face positively angelic. 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 ringleader 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?”
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 my face flushed. 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 flattering, I thought.
His friends joined in now, making fun of what was apparently a provincial outfit.
“I’m sorry. I know we’re a little old fashioned in Saint-Jérôme.” I schooled my expression into a smile. “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 on 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 was 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 lured him outside like leading a particularly vicious dog with a piece of meat.
I hated 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, my heart already thumping eagerly. After the long journey, it felt good to stretch my legs.
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 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.
It 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 whooshing 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.