Read an Excerpt
From Chapter One
France, July 1789
Julien woke suddenly, his eyes wide and focused on the ceiling above his bed. It danced with color, alternating red then orange then yellow. He stared at the colors for three heartbeats: why should his ceiling flicker so?
His gaze darted about his bedroom, looking for anything else out of place. A low fire smoldered in the hearth across from the large kingwood bed he occupied. But it had been banked by the servants the night before and was almost extinguished. It couldn't be the reason for the flickering light. The light was so bright he could make out the lion's head carved into his headboard. His eyes tracked over the rest of the room: the armchair in the corner upholstered in dark green velvet, the kingwood armoire, the wash stand in the corner, the bureau Mazarin he used for a desk. Nothing was out of place, nothing out of the ordinary. He allowed his eyes to drift closed again- And then he heard the shouting.
He bolted upright, tossing the bedclothes aside and rushing to the window beside the bed. He threw aside the heavy velvet draperies and stared into the night. As the eldest of three sons, he had his choice of rooms, and his overlooked the chateau's courtyard. Normally, it was a pretty picture, lined with benches and planted with dozens of flowers. In July, those flowers burst into swaths of red and yellow and pink. As none but the gardeners typically ventured into the courtyard, Julien was certain he was one of the few to enjoy the view. Until tonight.
Tonight the deserted courtyard swelled with people. Peasants shouting and brandishing torches streamed into the square. Julien couldn't understand what they shouted, but he understood what was coming. He turned, ran for his armoire, and pulled out a pair of breeches. Quickly, he shoved his legs into them and rammed his nightshirt in at the waist. Where were his shoes? He should have listened to his nanny and put them away. Julien fell to his knees, searching.
He heard windows breaking now, heard the shouts growing louder, and knew some of the peasants had overpowered the servants and were inside the chateau. In Paris, his parents had tried to shield him from the rumors of unrest among the lower classes, but he'd heard anyway.
Unspeakable things-things he didn't want to think about.
There was another crash and a shout.
Mort à l'aristocratie! That was what the peasants had shouted in Paris before they had torn the nobles apart-massacring them. So many had been killed, even babies were butchered. He had not seen it happen, but he had heard. He eavesdropped on his parents and their friends talking and knew about the fall of the Bastille and the uprisings in the streets. His father told his little brothers this trip to the country was for rest and relaxation, but Julien knew the truth.
And now the truth was inside his home.
Finally! His hand brushed the leather of one shoe, and he snatched it then slipped it on. Where was the other?
Oh, forget it! He had no time. He must reach Armand and Bastien before the peasants did. The twins were only eleven and wouldn't know what to do. He was thirteen. He could defend himself.
He yanked open his bedroom door and immediately threw an arm up. The hallway was already thick with gray smoke, the way to his brothers' rooms obscured.
He would have to breathe through the linen of his nightshirt. Coughing and stumbling blindly forward, he grasped at the sword that hung on the wall opposite his door. It had been his grandfather's sword, and he was not allowed to touch it. Julien did not like to break the rules, but he needed that sword.
It was heavy, so heavy that he could not hold it upright for long. He dropped it to the floor and had to drag it behind him as he moved toward his brothers. Julien had been glad when, upon turning twelve, he had been allowed to move into this far wing of the chateau. He'd felt older, mature.
Now he wished he were closer to the rest of his family. The sound of the thirsty fire licking at the chateau walls peaked and merged with the cries of the peasants. They were coming closer, and they would surely kill him when they found him.
Mon Dieu, s'il vous plaît. Aidez-moi.
Julien was sweating, his nightshirt wet and clingy. It was hot, so hot, and his heart was beating like a trapped woodpecker against his ribs.
Behind him, he heard someone running. Mon Dieu! They had found him. He whirled, squinting through the gray smoke. But he could see nothing. Inside his chest, his woodpecker heart stuttered and flapped its wings while the rapid footsteps grew closer. Julien raised his drooping sword, attempting to strike. But before he could swing, his mother's face was before him. "Julien! Oh, thank God. Thank God!"
She was dressed in a long white robe, streaked with blood and soot. Her hair, always perfectly coiffed, now streamed about her white face in black waves, making her look slightly deranged.
Julien focused on the blood. "Ma mère, are you alright?"
"We have no time. Your brothers." She took his hand and pulled him behind her. Julien noticed that beneath the skirts of her robe she wore no shoes. Even more troublesome: her robe was torn in the back.
The heat around them expanded, the air so thick and pulsing Julien could feel the heat singe his lungs. He fought for each gasping breath. "Hurry!"
They heard footsteps, and she pulled him aside, flattening them both against a tapestry on the wall.
But it was not the peasants. It was a groom and Albertine, his mother's maid. "Duchesse," the maid cried. "You must not go that way. The flames. They are too much."
"Come with us, Duchesse," the groom offered.
"No, thank you. I must reach my sons first."
To Julien's surprise, she spoke calmly and with composure. Despite the chaos and the choking smoke and the approaching cries, his mother managed to appear unruffled.
She put a hand out, touched Albertine's arm. "You go on without me. Get out, and quickly."
Without another word, she pulled Julien past the servants and along the corridor. They were both coughing now, the smoke so thick it was a wall they had to fight through. Julien hardly knew where they were anymore. He was confused and disoriented. His head hurt, his eyes smarted, and he could not stop coughing.
"We're almost there," his mother reassured him. "Don't-"
He heard the shout of angry voices ahead, and his mother slid to a stop, pushing Julien behind her. She retreated until their backs were pressed against the corridor wall. Julien peered behind him and recognized the painting hung there. They were close to his brothers' rooms now. So close.
Through the smoke the enraged voices rose and fell. "Move out of the way."
"Join us or die."
"You think you can protect the aristos? Mort à l'aristocratie!"