The Bride Wore Scarlet
By Liz Carlyle
Copyright © 2011 Liz Carlyle
All right reserved.
"It is only the enlightened ruler
and the wise general who will
use the highest intelligence of the army
for the purposes of spying."
Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Night lay over Wapping, nearly silent, the sky
wisped with a fog that twined like languid cats
about the bare masts of the ships at anchor in the Pool of
London. Despite the hour, the rhythmic slush-shush-slush of
a receding tide was unmistakable as it washed over mud and
gravel, the sliver of shore beneath as yet a mere speculation.
Atop the embankment, Lord Bessett ground the stub of a
cheroot beneath his boot heel, then flicked up the collar of
his greatcoat, a defense against the sharp, fetid breeze that
sliced off the Thames. The gesture cut the wind, but did
little to mitigate the stench of rot and raw effluent.
Thank God it was a chilly night.
The water slapped again, more violently, exposing for an
instant the last step, slick with green algae. Just then Bessett's
well-trained ear caught a sound. He jerked his gaze up,
scanning the Pool. There was nothing. Nothing save a few
distant shipboard lanterns, misty yellow smears bobbing
faintly with the tide, and the occasional spate of raucous
laughter carried across on the wind.
Then, silent as the grave, a waterman slid from the gloom,
cutting along the river's edge until his hull rumbled slightly
aground. A bony, tremulous finger pointed toward the stairs.
His passengera great hulk of a man in a long, dark cloak
unfolded himself, tossed a few glittering coins into the air,
then leapt with a heavy thud onto the last step.
The waterman slid back into the gloom, silent as he had
come, looking rather as if he accounted himself fortunate
His every sense alert, Bessett leaned over the embankment
and offered a hand as the visitor ascended into the pool
of yellow lamplight. He took it, stepping up onto the paved
surface with a grunt tinged with weariness.
Not a young man, then.
This assessment was proven accurate when the man turned
his face toward the lamp that swung from the Prospect's
river side balcony. His was a worn and weathered visage,
with small, hard eyes, and a nose that hung from his face
like a bulbous wad of sausage. To complete the disconcerting
picture, a scar slashed from his chin up through his mouth,
horribly twisting the bottom lip.
The waterman's consternation was understandable.
"Fine weather tonight, is it not?" Bessett said.
"Oui, but I hear it is raining in Marseilles." The voice was
like gravel, the accent thick and decidedly French.
Bessett felt the tension inside him relax but an increment.
The phrase was right, aye. But there could still be trouble
and he never entirely trusted the French.
"I'm Bessett," he said simply. "Welcome to London."
The man laid a heavy palm across Bessett's right shoulder.
"May your arm, brother, be as the right hand of God,"
he said in flawless Latin. "And all your days given to the
Fraternitas, and to His service."
"And so may yours," Bessett answered in the same.
Sensing no animosity, Bessett eased his left hand from
his pocket, releasing the hilt of the dagger he'd instinctively
clutched. "So you are DuPont," he went on. "Your reputation,
sir, precedes you."
"My reputation was made long ago," said the Frenchman.
"In younger days."
"I trust your journey was without incident?"
"Oui, a swift, easy crossing." The visitor leaned into him.
"So, I have heard much of this new safe house you keep
here. Even we French cannot but admire your effort."
"It is a good deal more than a safe house, DuPont." Bessett
motioned him down the narrow passageway that linked
Pelican Stairs to Wapping High Street. "We are dedicated to
rebuilding this sect. We live practically out in the open, in
the guise of a sort of intellectual society."
The visitor snorted with Gallic disdain. "Bonne chance,
mon frère," he said, stepping out into the gaslight. "As you
know, we in France are not so boldbut then, we have good
Bessett smiled thinly. "I take your point, DuPont. One
begins to wonder if the political upheaval in France will
The Frenchman lifted one thick shoulder. "Non, not in my
lifetime," he answered evenly. "And all your fine efforts here
in London will never change that fact."
"Aye, sadly, you may be right," said Bessett. "As to the
housethe St. James Society, it is calledany brother of
the Fraternitas Aureae Crucis who passes through England
is welcome to quarter with useven those who do not s
support the unification."
"Merci, but I must not linger." The Frenchman rolled his
shoulders uneasily. "So, my new Fraternitas brother, do we
walk? Have you a carriage?"
Bessett jerked his head toward the public house adjacent.
"The Society has come to you, DuPont. They wait within."
Just then, the Prospect's door flew open and a pair of
garishly dressed nightingales burst out, laughing, a hapless
young naval lieutenant hooked arm-in-arm between them.
He looked wealthy, besotted, and thoroughly foxedthe
prostitute's holy trinity.
The Frenchman watched them go assessingly, then gave
his disdainful grunt again. "Ah, mon frère, life is the same
the world over, non?"
"Aye, he'll be pissing pain till All Saints' Day with that
pair," Bessett muttered. "Come, DuPont. The brandy here at
the Prospect is passable, and the fire is warm."
Inside, the front taproom of the public house was abuzz,
with every scarred and beaten table surrounded by men of
the dockyards, with tavern maids swishing and weaving
between them, trays and tankards hefted gracefully aloft.
Lightermen, shipwrights, sailors of every nationalityeven
the occasional shipping magnateall of them came, eventually,
to the Prospect, where a hot meal and a fairly pulled
pint might be had in companionable good spirits.
Bessett waded through the human morass, the man called
DuPont on his heels, and made his way round the bar and
into a quieter room where the tables sat along a row of small
paned windows overlooking the Pool.
His three colleagues rose at once, shaking DuPont's
hand with outward welcome. But Bessett knew them well,
could see the tautness in every move of their muscles and
sensein an ordinary, human waythe age-old wariness
each exuded. Even if DuPont was Fraternitas, he came as
an agent of the Gallic Confederation, a stubborn and secretive
"Welcome to England, monsieur." Their Preost, the
Reverend Mr. Sutherland, motioned toward the empty chair. "A
pleasure to meet one of our brethren across the water. My
associates, Ruthveyn and Lazonby." Handshakes were
exchanged, then Ruthveyn snapped his fingers at one of the
girls, sending her scurrying for a bottle of brandy.
"So, DuPont, I hear from my Catholic compatriots in
Paris that trouble is afoot," Sutherland began once the bottle
and glasses had been situated. "Is that what brings you?"
DuPont sipped at his brandy, his scarred mouth twisting
even further at the taste. He set it down at once. "Oui, a child
has fallen into the wrong hands," he said. "We require your
"A child?" Ruthveyn's dark visage hardened. "A Gift, you
The Frenchman scrubbed his hand round what looked
like a day's growth of stubble. "It seems so," he admitted.
"Though the child is youngnot yet nine years of agethe
circumstances are . . . troubling."
"Troubling how?" Lord Lazonby, an inelegant, broad
shouldered man, had thrown himself casually back into his
chair, set his booted legs wide, and was absently turning his
glass round and round on the scarred oak table. "Can the
Guardians of Paris not keep up with their charges?"
DuPont bristled. "Ours is a nation in turmoil, you may
recall," he snapped. "Our King now resides herein utter
exileand even in these modern times, we can barely keep
the rabble from rolling out Madame la Guillotine again.
No, my Lord Lazonby. We cannot always keep up with our
charges. Indeed, we often fear for our heads."
Ruthveyn planted his dark, long-fingered hands wide on
the table. "Enough," he commanded. "Let us be civil. Tell
us, DuPont, what has happened. And be quick about it. We
mightn't have much time."
"Aye, you are to be married, old boy, in a few days' time,"
said Lazonby dryly, entirely unperturbed by the scold. "And
home to Calcutta thereafter. I believe Bessett and I can guess
who will be charged with this task."
"Precisely." Ruthveyn's voice was tight. "Now, what is the
name of this child, and how strong is your certainty of the
"The child is called Giselle Moreau. About the other, we
are certain enough to fear for her. The Gift is strong in the
father's blood. Her mother, Charlotte, is English."
"English?" said Ruthveyn sharply. "Who are her people?"
"Impoverished gentry near Colchester," said the Frenchman.
"They found enough money to send her to school in
Paris and she thanked them by falling in love with a lowly
clerk in the royal householda bastard nephew of the
Vicomte de Lezennes. She has had little contact with her
"They disowned her?"
"Oui, so it appears so."
"Lezennes?" Lord Bessett exchanged uneasy glances
with Mr. Sutherland. "I've heard the name. He's often found
near the center of court intrigue, isn't he?"
DuPont nodded. "Always near, oui, but never close enough
to be blamed," he said bitterly. "He is a clever devil, our
Lezennes. He has survived the fall of Louis-Philippe, and now
endeared himself to the Bonapartistseven as it is whispered
that he is in truth nothing but a Legitimist, secretly
seeking to restore the Ancient Régime."
"What do you think?" Bessett demanded.
The Frenchman shrugged. "I think he is a cockroach, and
cockroaches always survive. His politics scarcely matter to
me. But he has taken this Englishwoman under his wing in
order to use her child, and that matters to me very much.
And now he has removed them to Brussels, where he serves
as an emissary to the court of King Leopold."
Bessett's hands fisted involuntarily. "From one political
uncertainty to another," he murmured. "I cannot like the
sound of this. This is the very thing we wished to avoid,
DuPont, with the Fraternitas's unification."
"I understand, but this is France we are talking about,"
said DuPont calmly. "No one trusts anyone. The Fraternitas
in Parissuch as we still existis uneasy. Lezennes is not
known for his charitable nature. If he has taken this child,
it is for a purposehis own purpose, and a bad one. That is
why they have sent me. You must get the child back."
"Of course we wish to help," said Sutherland gently. "But
"As I said, the mother is English," said DuPont. "Your
Queen wishes her subjects abroad to be protected, does she
not? You have some rights in this, I think."
"I . . . don't know," said Ruthveyn warily.
The Frenchman crooked a brow arrogantly. "You are not
unknown to us, Lord Ruthveyn," he said. "Nor is your work
in Hindustan. You have your Queen's ear, and your Queen's
favor. The King of the Belgians is her beloved uncle. You
have influence. Would you truly punish the Gallic Confederation
merely because we keep to ourselves, when all we
ask is that you use your influence to save our Gift from being
raised by a devil? From being used for nefarious purposes?"
"Of course not." Ruthveyn's voice was tight. "None of us
"But what of this woman's husband?" Bessett demanded.
DuPont pressed his misshapen lips together for a moment.
"Moreau is dead," he finally answered. "Killed but a fortnight
after the King's abdication. He was summoned late
16 Liz Carlyle
one night to his office near the palaceby whom, we are
not surebut somehow, the draperies caught fire. A terrible
tragedy. And no one believes it was an accident."
Lord Ruthveyn's expression stiffened. "The dead man
he was a Guardian?"
"Oui." The word was but a whisper. "A man of little Gift,
but of good heart and much bravery. He has been sorely
missed amongst our number these many months."
"He was close to his uncle?"
DuPont's bitter smile deepened. "Scarcely even acknowledged,"
he said, "until rumor of little Giselle's talent began
to stir through the court."
"Good God, she was discovered?" said Bessett.
The Frenchman sighed deeply. "What is your English
expression?" he murmured. "Out of the mouths of babes?
Little Giselle predicted Louis-Philippe's abdication
blurted it out very innocently, but alas, very publiclyin
front of half his courtiers."
"Oh, dear." Mr. Sutherland's head fell into his hands.
"How could such a thing happen?"
"A court picnic at the Grand Parc," said the Frenchman.
"All the royal household and their families were invited
commanded, really. The King, of course, came out for a few
moments of noblesse oblige with the masses. Regrettably,
he ran straight into Madame Moreau, and decided to catch
Giselle's chin in his hand. He looked her straight into the
eyes, and would not look away."
Bessett and Ruthveyn groaned in unison.
"It gets worse," said DuPont, the truth spilling from him
now. "He asked why her eyes were so sad on such a lovely
day. When she did not reply, he teased her by saying he
commanded her as King to speak. So little Giselle took him
literally, and foretold not only the fall of the July Monarchy,
but went on to say that his abdication would be followed by
a second terrible lossthe death of his daughter, Louise-
"Good God, the Queen of the Belgians?"
"Aye, and that was Louis-Philippe's doing, too, 'tis whispered,"
DuPont continued. "He wished his daughter to be
made Leopold's queen in exchange for France's acceptance
of Belgian independence."
"I thought that was just a rumor," Ruthveyn remarked.
"Eh, perhaps." The Frenchman opened both hands
expressively. "But the French army stood down, Leopold's
morganatic wife was cast aside, and Louise-Marie was
ensconced on Belgium's throne. But now 'tis said the Queen
grows weaker by the day."
"So the child's prediction is again coming true," Bessett
"Consumption, it is whispered," said DuPont. "The Queen
will not likely last the year, and already the King's mistress
is wielding some influence."
But a sense of ice-cold dread was already creeping over
Bessett. This was the very thing Guardians of the Fraternitas
most feared: the exploitation of the weakest amongst
the Vateistheir ancient sect of seersmost of whom were
women and children.
Excerpted from The Bride Wore Scarlet by Liz Carlyle Copyright © 2011 by Liz Carlyle. Excerpted by permission of Avon. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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