Love's First Light a novel
By Jamie Carie
B&H Publishing Group Copyright © 2009 Jamie Carie Masopust
All right reserved. ISBN: 978-0-8054-4813-9
Chapter One 1789-Paris, France
They were coming.
They were coming! Christophé shoved his little sister, twelve-year-old Émilie, through a hidden door in the wall, quickly following after her. He held the door open, waiting for the rest of his family, but they didn't appear. The sounds of the soldiers were close. He had no choice. He let the panel fall shut with sudden finality, leaving them in utter darkness.
His sister whimpered and clung to his broad shoulders behind the pearl-paneled, gilt-molded wall. He held her tight against his quivering body, his palm over her ear, pressing her other ear into his chest so that she wouldn't hear their mother's screams. Too late ... His heart felt sick, leaden. They'd captured the rest of the St. Laurent family. He clasped Émilie's filmy sleeved dress in his fist and willed the evil away.
Together they stilled their bodies into stark fear as they heard the rolling wheels of the guillotine. Christophé heard a voice command his mother, the Countess Maria Louisa St. Laurent, to come forward. At twenty-three, Christophé recognized that they'd chosen her first to heighten the horror. He clenched his eyes as the rattle of woodenwheels over the hard floor softened when they met carpet, then stilled. It had reached its place of death and damnation. A heavy thud sounded on the other side of the wall as his mother, shrieking, was locked into place. Wails filled the room. His throat ached with silent screams. A second of shocked silence.
And then the thick thud of the blade.
The eldest soil was next. Christophé heard his older brother Louis's heavy grunts as they forced him to the guillotine. He remembered when Louis had sounded like a boy, and then his voice changed. Still, there was the occasional squeak that they weren't to notice. Finally, when his voice no longer squeaked, his brother shot up four inches in a single summer. How proud Christophé had been of that cool, confident young man.
A guttural yell against cloth broke into his thoughts. He closed his eyes and willed it away.
But this nightmare was far from over. Jean Paul would be next-and so he was. The brother who laughed with him and wrestled with him, who ran across fields with him long after Christophé should have outgrown such things. Jean Paul-brother of my heart!
Christophé's whole being became stilled screams.
His body jerked as the sound of the blade sliced through the darkness. He nearly lost consciousness. His body grew weak, his breath vanished in terror. He lost the strength to hold Émilie. He could only blink in the dark and feel his eyes flow with tears that seemed never ending. His shirt and Émilie's hair became soaked with his silent grieving.
A sudden sound rang out. A father's cry. He begged and promised things he taught them never to say. The Count of St. Laurent. Laurie, his mother called him. Their father. A husband. Now, in the end, just a man.
Christophé heard threats shouted into his father's face. He pictured him bent for the blade, his hands tied behind his back. "Where are they?" some evil demanded. "You will only prolong their misery."
"We will find them." Another voice, as subtle a threat as a rapier thrust.
This voice sounded familiar. From the few times he had visited their chateau, Christophé could picture a narrow face and wide-set eyes that seemed to see everything. He remembered a cuffing on the chin when he was a child, dark eyes glaring into his as the man stood in the corner of their crowded salon. Christophé would never forget those piercing eyes.
That evil smile.
He couldn't remember the name, but he knew the face. It was as imprinted now as if he'd seen him drop the blade himself.
Christophé vowed he would never forget.
Their father did not give up the hiding place of his two youngest. He said only, over and over, "Don't kill me. Please, don't kill me."
And no matter how hard Christophé pressed his hand against his sister's quivering body, he knew she heard it too. The final thwack of a blade ...
The end to any life they had ever known.
* * *
Run from Paris.
It was the one thought that kept him sane while trapped in the room. He had to protect Émilie. He had to save her.
They waited in the dark smallness of the space, their ragged breath making the air hot and still. They listened in panting silence while men ran about the room, ransacking and looting, searching for them. They heard the glass break and the fabric rip. Footsteps pounded around the place where they hid-close, causing them to cling together, and then above them and all around them. It seemed a hundred men had come to participate in the fall of the house of St. Laurent. Émilie had not stopped shaking for the first two hours, and then, suddenly, went slack in his arms. He held her tight, knowing she had fallen into an exhaustion of body and emotion. He was thankful for it, hoping she would sleep and that he alone would commit the full horror to memory. The muscles of his arms and back quivered with the strain of endurance. But he wouldn't lay her down; he would not allow the slightest movement that might awaken her.
He didn't know how long to stay hidden. It frightened him, this indecision. He was old enough to be strong for the both of them, but he felt his place as leader slip ... with two older brothers, he'd never needed to fill that role. He'd been allowed his eccentricities, his head always bent over some experiment or laboring over equations or taking something apart to see the mechanisms. So he continued to wait. Long after all noise had ceased, long after they had both slept and then woke and then slept again, neither saying a word. He was afraid to open the door, afraid of what they were sure to see, but he knew that a full day must have passed and the cover of night was their only hope of escape.
Christophé pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and whispered his first words since they'd entered the room. "I'm to open the door now, Émilie." Then he folded the cloth and put it gently to her eyes. She reared back, afraid, but didn't speak; her breathing grew more rapid as she shook her head. "To protect you," he insisted in a voice meant to soothe. "I don't want you to see whatever is on the other side of that door. I would save you that memory."
Her body stilled. Then she bowed her head and began to cry. She was only twelve, and Christophé could tell that the thought had not yet occurred to her. He allowed her to cry silently into his chest, wetting his shirt, his arms tight around her until she was spent. Then he lifted the cloth and tied the knot behind her head.
The hidden door creaked as he opened it, causing him to stop and listen. Nothing but moonlight spilled in. The air in the room was tainted with the smell of blood, but Christophé could see the illumination of familiar shapes in the light through the long windows. The portable guillotine-the kind they transported to battlefields-and the bodies of his family had been taken away. He kept the blindfold on his sister, though. There was enough blood staining the Persian carpet for a lifetime of nightmares.
Once out of the room, they crept, hand in hand, through the great hall and toward his father's library. Christophé hoped to find his father's gold still hidden there. He remembered how his father had taken his three sons into this room and explained his escape plan to them. After the storming of the Bastille, where a mob had torn the famed prison apart brick by brick, a new wave of panic had struck the nobles. Some fled, some hid their valuables but refused to leave Paris-all watched the new political dealings of the Convention with leaden hearts, angry that King Louis and his queen, Marie Antoinette, were now little more than prisoners, sitting on a barrel of gunpowder, and trying to remain dignified in their palace prison. That is when the Count St. Laurent had called his sons home and made a family plan.
Christophé had been at the Académie Royale des Sciences where he was finally able to immerse himself in his love of mathematics and science. Jean Paul and Louis had moved out of their bachelor lodgings in Paris and taken back residence at the home of their Father. All the aristocrats of France were calling home their sons and clinging close to their daughters ... for no one knew whose head would roll next. Priests, aristocrats, and anyone opposing the new Republic were now the enemies of a nation on fire with the ideals of freedom.
Christophé stopped short upon entering the room. He saw the desk where his father had sat ... and sudden tears blinded him.
It had been dark that night when the four of them had whispered plans of escape and hiding. They were motioned to seat themselves across from the Count, wondering why their father was so intense and determined. There was only a branch of candelabra sitting on the desk giving them light. The flicker from the candles caught his face, casting it into shadows and then bringing it about again in sharp lines of jaw and hooded brow. The Count sat at his desk, pulled out some papers and then raked his dark, silver-stranded hair away from his forehead. He looked up at the three of them and sighed heavily.
"My sons." He seemed to break and struggle, but the emotion was so quickly extinguished that Christophé couldn't be sure it had ever existed. "This world you have inherited is not the same as any I have ever known." He looked each of them in the eye.
Christophé followed his father's gaze. Louis, rebellious and scoffing, his quick replies sounding throughout the room. Jean Paul, ill at ease, anxious and compliant to any plan that might save them. Christophé didn't know how he appeared to the others, but a great upheaval was radiating from his heart into his quivering limbs and throat. It wasn't fear. It wasn't despair over the old way of life suddenly snatched away. It was an odd mixture of excitement for the future ... interlaced with despair over the destruction he felt sure was coming. All he knew for certain was that this family-this aristocratic family-would never be the same.
He'd been taught to hate the voice of the people. Who were they? He was supposed to think of them as working-class, ill-bred, uneducated peasants. They were nobodies, he'd been told, that had neither the intelligence, nor the wealth, nor the blue blood flowing through their veins to govern any more than a cow or a field. Perhaps, if they were bright enough, they could ply a trade or run a shop. Still, to have a real voice? To decide on the governing practices of a land so great as France? Never! It wasn't possible.
So he'd been told.
But Christophé lowered his head from his father's intense glare and knew he couldn't echo his father's convictions. He knew he was the only one in the room who thought that, despite it all, they were worthy.
No one need starve in silent, desperate misery.
Christophé looked up into his father's shattered eyes and reminded himself that this man's politics were liberal; he was just and well-liked. Perhaps he ... they ... might be spared. But his father's voice echoed around the dark room assuring them that none of the past mattered anymore. They were aristocrats from birth, and the people of France believed they must be annihilated. There was a new invention-the guillotine. And it was created for their necks.
"There are hiding places in the chateau." Their father took up a quill and began to draw. Several rooms appeared on the page, and he wrote their names above the boxes and then marked locations with an X. "Here, in the dining room." He tapped on the paper. "There is a false back in the sideboard table. And here, in the blue salon, behind this painting is a safe."
Christophé and his brothers nodded, their heads bent over the paper as he showed them three more. Then the Count pointed to a spot outside the rooms and drew a long line. "From here"-he pointed to another salon-"is a tunnel leading out into the gardens. You enter it by moving the bookcase. You will see the lever." He looked at Christophé. "Check that it works for me."
"I know the tunnel," Louis admitted. "It works."
His father looked ready to question, but apparently thought better of it. "Very well. There is one more thing."
The three brothers sat up while their father leaned in. "If all else fails, if you have to run, there is an old castle on the southern border of France. In Carcassonne."
"The Trenceval castle?" Jean Paul was the history lover in the ritually and had spoken of longing to see the castle many times.
"Yes. It's in shambles, a ruin. But it is far from Paris and might be safe for a while."
With that, their father said he was tired, rubbed his temples, and let out a long sigh. "Go to bed, my sons, and don't forget to pray."
Christophé pulled himself from thoughts of that day and led his sister deeper into the library. It was dark, empty, like the thudding feeling of emptiness in his chest. A soundless grate in the fireplace, an echo against the walls that would never again be filled with their happy voices, a darkness that no light could ever penetrate. It was over-fini. Their lives as they'd known it. There was only heaviness left. It filled his chest and his shoulders and he bowed his head. He didn't know if he would ever really be able to raise his head again.
Christophé lit a candle on the desk and opened a side drawer where he found a sharp-edged tool. He walked over to a far wall, took firm grasp of either side of the painting's frame, and lowered it to the floor. Behind it was a hidden door, small and disguised by the molding in the paneling. With the tool, he pried it open and plunged his hand inside. It wasn't there! Christophé felt a stab of panic. What were they to do?
Turning, he saw that Émilie had sunk to the floor, still blindfolded. She looked so stiff and scared-why hadn't he thought to remove the cloth? As he knelt down beside her, he saw that silent tears were racing down her cheeks. He quickly untied the cloth. She did not look up at him.
Christophé grasped her shoulders and pulled her into his chest, whispering, "I'm sorry." She clung to his shoulders, but did not speak, only kept hold as if in letting go she would dissolve into a million pieces. "We have to go," Christophé finally whispered. "We have to try." He pulled her up, but kept tight hold of her hand.
They crept down a dark hall, the candle a flickering light against the family portraits that hung like ancient memories. Their eyes watched them, demanding, it seemed, justice for the name St. Laurent.
They came into the main hall where the ceiling was high and domed and had always echoed back at their gleeful childish shouts. Christophé lifted the candle a little higher to see into the gloom.
* * *
A SHADOW MOVED with a suddenness that made him rear back, his arms spread to either side to protect his sister. The man that had murdered his family stood in the great hall, so still he might have been another statue.
A name rose to Christophé's conscious-Maximilien Robespierre. Christophé's heart leapt into his throat as their gazes locked. Panic had him backing away, grasping and then pulling Émilie along with him. They ran back the way they had come, booted footsteps right behind them. Christophé threw down the candle and pulled his sister faster, feeling her gasping breaths against his straining wrist.
Several steps and then he felt Émilie jerk as the man grasped her. Christophé swung out with his free hand, catching the man on the side of the head. He heard a surprised grunt, pulled Émilie's hand, hearing her shriek, her cloak falling away as the man grabbed for her.
"Don't give up," he demanded in a hoarse whisper. "Run!" He screamed it through a tight and closed throat. "Run!"
Down a narrow flight of stairs, the man just behind them, they reached the door. Christophé twisted the knob with curled, numb fingers. He pulled Émilie through just as Robespierre reached out for her again. He slammed the door hard, catching the thin man again, hearing another grunt and then a curse. He didn't have time to bar the door, nor anything to bar it with, so he pulled hard on his sister's hand and dragged her across the dark street.
The man was soon behind them, but they had gained a few seconds. Weaving into a narrow side street, Christophé guided them by instinct alone. He and his brothers had often explored the city around their palatial chateau. The streets were tight-packed with houses, businesses, and shops. He looked for the red door. The door of his friend.
Excerpted from Love's First Light by Jamie Carie Copyright © 2009 by Jamie Carie Masopust. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.