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Authors: Jennifer Horsman

Awaken My Fire

BOOK: Awaken My Fire
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Awaken My Fire

 

by

Jennifer Horsman

 

SMASHWORDS EDTION

 

*****

 

PUBLISHED BY

Jennifer Horsman on Smashwords

Copyright © 2011 by Jennifer Horsman

 

Smashwords Edition License Notes

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the author's work.

 

*****

 

Prologue

 


Tis Lady Roshelle!"


That be the famous mare Charles just gave her!"

"Saints alive! Look! She means to jump the hedge!"

"She'll break her neck!"

"Mon Dieu!"

The surprised members of the Duke of Orleans' hunting party held their collective breath, their gazes wide, riveted to the fast-moving streak made of the blue gossamer of the young lady's gown over the reddish brown of the mare's coat. Tension seized the men as the girl leaned forward, clinging tightly as the horse flew towards them like the wind. Four mercilessly short paces from the waist-high hedge, the magnificent creature leaped high into the air. For a long magical moment, horse and rider appeared gloriously suspended in space. Hooves crashed to the ground amidst the cheers and wild applause of the men.

"No other girl in Christendom can ride like that!"

"Precious few knights as well!"

"And it twill no doubt get her buried!"

Roshelle Marie slowed the creature's speed, tightening the bit as she turned her in fast pretty circles before the group. She was in no mood to banter with the lords and barons of her guardian's court. Not now. For unmasked fury shimmered in her blue eyes, the emotion seemingly incongruent with the delicate lines that drew her deceptively angelic beauty—deceptive, for the great passions that ruled her were anything but angelic; no wilder creature lived in all of France. Presently her blue eyes sought and found her guardian amongst his men. She came right to the point.

"I will not marry that beast!"

Louis Valois, the Duke of Orleans, just stared. He first said nothing as he stared at the girl he loved, as if only now realizing what he had done. Mon Dieu, it hurt to look at her. Sitting atop that half-wild horse against the backdrop of woods and beneath the bright blue sky, Roshelle Marie Saint Lille, the Countess of Lyons and Bourges, looked incredibly beautiful.

Roshelle Marie was but ten and three, tall and as slim as a boy, her slender figure just beginning to blossom with the promise of womanhood. A pretty blue beret crowned the untamed cascade of her rich auburn, tousled and wild-looking from her ride. The color of her hair matched perfectly the color of her horse. (It had taken Charles, the Dauphin, ten servants and three months to find a match in both spirit and color.) And while usually she took pains to hide the white streak in her hair, not so now. Against the auburn color, the white streak proclaimed her wholly unique position in his court like a banner.

Louis needed no reminder of the fact. With the exception of Papillion and perhaps young Charles himself, no one loved the girl more than he did. Giving her up would be the single hardest thing he had ever done. "Roshelle Marie," he began but stopped, changed his mind and motioned to the handlers to quiet the dogs. "Who told you of this?"

''Then it is true! You do think to marry me to Philip the Bad, the Lord of Normandy!"

Shocked gasps sounded from the interested, now silent audience. Only a few knew the awful news, for Louis had wanted desperately to keep it a secret as long as possible. Roshelle held her breath, too, part of her unable to believe this was happening, that he wasn't denying it. She had been so certain Papillion's court spies had been wrong.


Do not you see? 'Twill save all of France, the country, all of the people you love—you will save them!"

She raised her face to the heavens, offering a frantic prayer to slow her mounting desperation long enough to think. Papillion had always warned that Rodez would have his revenge where it hurt the most: "He will strike you, Roshelle!"

"Why, Papillion? Why me?"

"Because you mean the most to me in this life. Just as Angelique meant the most to him. He will bring your life despair and you will be cursed. I see it now."

She remembered the panic, the terror of his words. Rodez was now a man ruled by hatred, all because he had once known love. He had fallen in love with a poor baroness named Angelique Von Elliote, and had abnegated on a marriage contract in order to marry her, losing a fortune in the process. Roshelle was one of the few people alive who knew the awful truth of how Rodez had lost Angelique to the church, and why he blamed Papillion for the heartbreaking loss.

"Do you mean, Papillion, am I to die before my time?"

"No, no, sweetling." He had shaken his head, and she'd felt a moment's relief, but just a moment's, for then he had asked her: "What are the most powerful of all things on earth?"

"Love and God."

"Aye. Love and God, two of the same. And what is the most painful and sorrowful of all things on earth?"

Her blue eyes had searched his. "I think, the loss of that love." She had gasped. "Like Rodez."

"Aye, like Rodez." Then Papillion had stared off at a distance where he could see her future. She followed his gaze to the place where the blue sky sat on the earth, and a distinct line made the horizon. Then she caught the reflection of the last rays of the sun on Papillion's gold ring.

Papillion claimed that one night as he slept he was given the vision of this gold ring, that it would come with the gift of prophecy. He was shown a forest glen he knew from his travels where he would find the ring. The next morning he set off for the glen, a two-day trip from the forest house. When he finally reached this place, he found a wounded hawk lying under a tree. The creature's leg was bleeding, entangled in an old fishing line, and on this fishing line was the gold ring.

Of course, this unlikely story was probably the result of an old man's imagination and a young girl's love of a tale. Still, sometimes, like now when she looked at it just so, the intricate latticework seemed to move, as if it were alive, full of mystery and magic.

The old man had said: "The curse will protect you, like an invisible veil over your life. It will keep you safe—"

"But if it be a curse!"

"Aye, a curse because it will keep you safe, but not, I fear, with impunity. Oh, no, I see someone is coming to teach you that to know love, however briefly, is to never regret. Her name is—"A warm smile changed his face. "Aye, her name be Joan."

She had been so frightened by the words, especially after the rain-washed night when she met Joan, that with Louis's permission she had spent her fortune on making a new order of Saint Catherine in Orleans: an order of sisters dedicated to ministering to the poor and downtrodden. Fifty thousand livres to build the small-convent and chapel, five thousand more just to pay the only masons in France who could cut and erect the stone for its bell tower, ten thousand livres more to keep the sisters there and, mon Dieu, she had thought she had escaped this curse and despair...

Roshelle's thoughts returned to the present. "There must be another way, there must! We can stop it! I know we can stop it. I will not be sacrificed to a man I loathe! I will not!"

The petulant tone of her voice made her seem as young as she was. Ten and three. Louis tried to keep in mind the vulnerability of her youth, and was even more determined to do so when he noticed the slight tremble in her hands on the reins. Roshelle's blue eyes followed his and she gasped slightly, startled by just how desperate she felt.

Roshelle dropped the reins and slid from her horse, rushing at him. "My Grace!" She fell to her knees on the forest floor, lifting her clasped hands in prayerful supplication to him. "My Grace, you know, you must know, I would march verily unto death for Charles, for you, for France, and that of course I am not so silly or foolish a creature as to ever dream of love in my marriage, but you cannot sacrifice me to a man who is responsible for the deaths of half the people I loved—including my uncle and my last two cousins! Why, his very name says all: Philip the Bad! He is said to have once punished a servant by killing the poor wretch's child! He is a mad, bloodthirsty beast and but a sniveling pawn of the House of Burgundy. How can you think to have me marry him? How can you think to let him have his revenge? 'Tis as if you are making Papillion's awful prophecy come true. Stop it! Stop it now and set me free—"

''Listen to me, Roshelle!'' He grabbed her thin arms in order to command her attention. "As we speak, Henry of England is amassing his army on the Dover shore. My spies report an army numbering four thousand this time. Four thousand warring knights! We have no chance this time. None—unless I swallow my hate and pride and join forces with my brother. We must join armies! And you, Roshelle, know this—"

''Aye! I know the threat that shadows our land. I know we must have all the knights of France to fight Henry, but—"

"And you will get me this! Your marriage in exchange for my brother's army, and while Papillion warned us both about my dear brother, about sacrificing you at the altar, he also has left me no choice. 'Tis a bargain made in hell, but the only one Rodez will make!"

A tremor of fear passed through Roshelle and she closed her eyes, the images of that dark night flashing dizzily through her mind: Papillion's throat and the blood streaming from the jeweled dagger and Rodez's desperate demand, "I must have it! Give it to me!" and the sudden manifestation of the diabolical parchment in Papillion's hand and as Rodez seized it, as his fingers touched it, the burst of fire!

"That night he threatened this! To use me for revenge! To teach Papillion, he said he would use me to enact revenge. You know this!"

The words were said like a warning. Louis nodded. "Aye, Roshelle, and what's just as bad is he gets to squeeze my heart in the bargain. 'Tis just like Rodez to make me squirm and suffer, to pick the one thing that would be hardest for me to give up." Then he added in a tone of utter defeat, "The jewel of my court . . . married to that wretched old man—"

"Tell him you changed your mind, that you cannot agree to such a marriage! Your brother will concede, he has to! After all, he stands to lose as much to the English. He needs us as much as we need him—"

"Does he? My spies bring me reports of Rodez's correspondence with Henry."

"What?" She stared in disbelief. "Nay! This cannot be!"

Yet the gravity on Louis's face as he nodded said it was true. The shocking news rocked her back on her heels, and her eyes widened with incredulity as she tried in vain to imagine even Rodez Valois sinking so low as to negotiate with the archenemy of all France, Henry, the King of England. "Be that the reason you agreed to my ill-fated marriage?" With dawning understanding and defeat, she whispered, "You are afraid Rodez will turn traitor and join with Henry against you, and, dear Lord, did not Papillion say 'twould be a thing you had to do?"

He nodded slowly, watching her closely now. He did not have to say the rest. He knew well how quickly her mind worked.

The news changed everything and nothing. At least she understood why she was to be sacrificed, and aye, 'twas a goodly reason for sure. Yet still she did not understand how he could do this to her. Papillion would stop him, he always said he would stop him ... yet .Papillion was in Paris, then Basel for two, maybe three more fortnights. A tremor of fear shot up her spine. ' 'Mon Dieu!'' She slowly shook her head in denial. "Milord, oh, Dieu, you have put a date on this ill-fated marriage?"

"Aye." He nodded again as his kindly brown eyes filled

with the pain of it. "The Sunday after next. My brother and your newly betrothed have already embarked for Orleans. Their parties should be here by week's end."

Roshelle's blue eyes widened with the shock of it. Papillion had taught her the infallibility of math, a subject not usually considered ambiguous, but one she found different now: her fastest messenger riding Charles's fastest horse could arrive in Paris in two days if all went well, an uncertain proposition in these dark days of brigands and bandits. 'Twould then take another day, maybe two and maybe longer, to find Papillion. He would be lecturing at the Sorbonne if the quality of students pleased him, but if not, he would have already left for Basel where philosophers and their students congregated, and if so, 'twould take another two days to reach Basel from Paris-Dear Lord!

BOOK: Awaken My Fire
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