"It's about sex, and cruelty, and forgiveness."
Thus begins a sweeping historical adventure about two dueling swordsmen and the plot to kill a king in the grand tradition of Dorothy Dunnett and Alexander Dumas.
The year is 1610. Continental Europe is briefly at peace after years of war, but Henri IV of France is planning to invade the German principalities. In England, only five years earlier, conspirators nearly succeeded in blowing up King James I and his Parliament. The seeds of the English Civil War and the Thirty Years War are visibly being sown, and the possibility for both enlightenment and disaster abounds.
But Valentin Rochefort, duelist and spy for France's powerful financial minister, could not care less. Until he is drawn into the glittering palaces, bawdy back streets, and stunning theatrics of Renaissance France and Shakespearean London in a deadly plot both to kill King James I and to save him. For this swordsman without a conscience is about to find himself caught between loyalty, love, and blackmail, between kings, queens, politicians, and Rosicrucians and the woman he has, unknowingly, crossed land and sea to meet.
|Product dimensions:||5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
The author of A Secret History, Mary Gentle has written eight books that have won critical acclaim from science fiction and fantasy authors and critics alike. She's completed two Master degrees and is an expert sword-fighter. Her home resides in England
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A Sundial in a Grave: 1610
It is not every man who sets out to kill the King of France and begins by beating his own servant.
"Messire Valentin!" Gabriel Santon protested, staring up at me from the floor as if Fate and Chance together had both kicked him in the stomach, rather than I.
I can see I will have to do better than this.
I strode across the bare boards to the window, feeling the chill of the wooden floor through my hose. If I had more resolution, I would have waited until my boots were on and kicked him then.
Spring of the year 1610: the shutters, open, let in the smoke of every man's breakfast cooking-fire, obscuring the Paris roofs with the common early morning haze. For all that, I could still see the shadow of my watcher down under the over-hang of the house across the street, where he (or another of the Queen's men) had been all the sleepless night.
"Shave me," I ordered curtly, and turned away from the cool May air, back to the fugginess of the room. The scent of horse-dung followed me, and the sound of raucous cockerels proclaiming dawn. I set myself down on the room's one bare bench, deliberately turning my back on Gabriel.
I have no way to leave these lodgings without being observed, front entrance and rear, I thought -- as I had been thinking for the past five hours, since the moment when Queen Marie de Medici's men smirked and left me on my own doorstep. So, what is to be done?
Gabriel's large fist shoved a jack of ale into my hands, and then he stepped behind me, and I heard the clatter of the basin as he filled it from the kettle of heated water brought up from the communal kitchens. I could have taken the risk of sending him out for food --
-- but they will think I am sending him out with a warning. And they will put a dagger in his kidneys before he gets to the bottom of the street.
His tread was heavy on the floorboards, as befits an old soldier grown fat in my service. Gabriel was skinnier fifteen years ago in the wars of the Low Countries, when he discovered a fool of a young ensign in search of a noble death. I think he knocked me down a time or two, in the course of persuading me that scandal dies sooner than a man, and that contempt can be outlived. I barely remember; I was cow-kissing drunk at the time. Certainly drunk enough to provide an excuse for forgetting that my corporal had lessoned me much as he might one of his eighteen-year-old farm-boy troopers -- and thereby kept me alive.
The ale was cool, and tasted smoky. Gabriel's disgruntled voice sounded in my ear.
"Head back, messire. Chin up."
I knew him well enough to know that it hadn't worked yet; that he would not leave me for a curse and one kick. His tone plainly said Messire was out drinking last night, Messire lost money playing at hazard with dice, and guess who he takes his foul temper out on? Poor bloody Gabriel. As usual.
The hair-splittingly sharp blade of the razor followed the soap over my chin. I sat perfectly still, as a man tends to when he has a knife at his throat. Every morning for fifteen years, Gabriel Santon might have slit the big artery on the left of my windpipe, and I have never known his hand shake. Nor, now I think about it, at any of the things he has seen in those past years, and mine is a business to shake the nerves of most.
The scrape of blade over stubble and the warming air of the room, as this fourteenth day of May dawned, set my own nerves on edge. I listed it off in my mind. I must get rid of Gabriel, because no man associated with me now is safe. I must act as if I am following the Queen Marie de Medici's orders, or her men will kill me, and I will have no way to get a warning out of what she plans.
And that means I must seem, convincingly to her men who watch me, to be arranging the murder of her husband, Henri, fourth of that name, otherwise Henri of Navarre, now King of France.
The towel wiped over my face, leaving only the moustache and small point of beard that it is my custom to wear. I felt Gabriel taking the weight of my hair in his hands, searching out such few parasites as haunt lodgings like these. I am vain enough to keep my hair clean, and to wear it long in the fashion of the court, since there is, at forty, not a strand of grey in it -- and a man must be vain about what he can.
"Are you going to the Arsenal today?" Gabriel said idly, walking around in front of me with my cuffs and ruff in his hand. "Or is Monsieur the Duc at the Bastille now?"
I struck hard, knocking the linen out of his hands, and following it with a backhand blow across his face.
"What business of yours is it where the Duc de Sully is, little man!"
Gabriel began to stoop, protesting that he meant no harm, and simultaneously grumbling under his breath. I stood up. For a moment apprehension caught my heartbeat and the pit of my stomach: Suppose I cannot save Gabriel? Suppose I cannot save the Duc?A Sundial in a Grave: 1610
A Novel. Copyright © by Mary Gentle. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.