Authors: Linda Lee Chaikin
Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Historical, #book, #ebook
IN HORROR, SAW
Avril’s fate. She threw her hands over her head and screamed. She doubled over, clenching her fists. “Beasts! Antichrists!”
Someone grabbed her from behind, a hand going over her mouth, an arm going roughly round her waist, dragging her backward. She kicked and fought with a rage she did not know she possessed. She chomped her teeth into the fingers covering her mouth and tasted his blood. She slammed her elbow into his ribs — heard his revolting grunt, all to no avail. Exhausted emotionally, her strength fell away into hopelessness.
She was being dragged away, then flung over his shoulder like a slab of beef, carried off as booty to be devoured.
ACROSS THE DIRT ROAD,
Rachelle remained hidden among the oleanders, knuckles bared against her teeth. The ugly sounds of terror continued until she thought she would go insane with her helplessness. She covered her ears with her sweating palms.
No doubt the duc believed he had done God a ser vice by ridding Lyon of heretics. “Beasts, made to be taken and destroyed,” he often repeated from clerics who misquoted from the epistle, 2 Peter. That was their excuse for the Inquisition!
She remembered Christ had said, “The time will come when whosoever kills you will think he is doing God ser vice.”
The sounds of madness ceased. Rachelle opened her eyes, taking her hands from her ears, listening.
Wood crackled; a gust of smoke blew in her direction. The mulberry leaves shuddered. A lone bird gave a short reluctant trill then, and as though in sadness over the evil of mankind, the bird flew away.
Rachelle peered through the oleanders to see gray smoke coming from the barn. The soldiers had ridden away — or had they?
She unclenched her fists; there was blood on her palms from her finger nails. She lifted herself from the ground, weak and damp with sweat. Keeping her head low among the oleanders, she surveyed the field as far as she could see. She squinted, able to see bodies. She was shaking now and strangely chilled.
How many dead — non, how many murdered? How many had been bound with rope and carried away for the dungeons, to be burned later?
She straightened, hearing the wind swirling through the trees, and what had earlier seemed a chorus of praise was now mournful to her ears.
Grant me courage, Lord.
If there were any yet alive and wounded, she must go to them. Possibly her own sisters and Cousin Bertrand were among them. And poor James Hudson.
Rachelle pushed through the oleanders and walked across the road.
Although she wanted to run, her feet felt heavy.
Her heart froze with fear as she made her way into the field with the smell of smoke on the breeze. The grasses rustled. She stopped in the midst of the wreckage, stunned by the gruesome sight of so many cut down, including children. For a shocked moment she could do nothing except stare at the bloody carnage. Her stomach sickened as she began to recognize friends she had known since childhood, all of them members of her church. How could this have happened?
Rachelle raised her tearstained face to the sky and felt the sun warming her damp cheeks.
I want revenge. I hate them!
If she expected heaven’s rebuke, it did not come. This patience with her anger and frustration did more to melt her resistance than any rebuke.
, she prayed, anguish gushing from her soul and forming a river of hot tears that drenched her cheeks. She fell to her knees, her clenched fists slowly loosened.
Be strong, yea, be strong.
Fret not thyself because of evildoers . . . For they shall soon be cut down
like the grass, and wither as the green herb.
She forced herself forward into the midst of death, running, then pausing to see who had fallen and if there were any signs of life. Onward she moved, searching, searching — afraid of whom she might find.
Here was Monsieur Lemoine who had requested Bertrand to teach his flock. He had found something more precious to him in life than appeasing the powerful. For belief in Scripture alone as the final authority, he had received a sword through his heart; his Sunday shirt now soaked crimson. The Bible had been snatched from his hand and the pages were ripped out, scattered and trampled around his lifeless body, the wind now fluttering some pages.
On she ran.
Here was Madame Hershey —She would not be bringing the silk scarf to her daughter today to celebrate the birth of her first grandson. Her daughter would soon be mourning her death.
Rachelle blundered on, the hem of her skirt stained. She saw several little ones cut down without mercy.
A lone baby cried beneath the shield of its mother’s arms. Madame Scully had died bent protectively over her baby girl.
Rachelle stooped, removing the infant from Madame Scully’s embrace. It was difficult to loosen the mother’s hold and Rachelle choked back sobs. Finally freeing the child, she carried her into the shade, remembering the time her birth was announced.
“I will come back for you.”
She walked on, coming closer to the charred barn until she saw her — Rachelle inched forward, moaning, and slipped to her knees beside a familiar silken dress the color of an April daffodil, the white Alençon lace was now stiff and brownish red. It was Avril. Avril, at sweet thirteen, her once smiling face now lifeless and crushed.
Rachelle fell across her body and wept loudly.
behind the mulberry orchard. The wind sighed a mournful dirge through the tall trees.
Dazed, Rachelle sat beside her sister’s body. Her gaze was fixed on the gentle face of a blue wildflower that had somehow escaped the fanatical trampling of men and horses. She became fixated on the sight. What did it mean? What, if anything, was the Lord expressing to her in this hour? The flower stood unmolested, green, flourishing, its leaves and petals waving in the breeze as though dancing. How had it survived the madness?
Rachelle stirred as a hand touched her shoulder. She opened her eyes, swollen from crying, from dust and smoke. Idelette looked down at her. Rachelle sucked in a breath. Idelette?
Idelette’s hair was torn loose from her carefully arranged modest curls. There was a dazed look in her pale blue eyes. Her mouth was cut and bleeding. There were other bruises on her cheeks and neck, and blood had dried with dirt and sweat. Her belle Sunday dress was ripped, telling Rachelle the brutal facts.
Rachelle groaned and reached both arms toward her. “My poor sister . . .”
Idelette wrapped her arms around Rachelle’s neck and they wept as only sisters can when their hearts are entwined.
“Avril — I saw it happen — and then a soldier caught me — ”
Rachelle rallied. She must be strong for both of them. She drew her sister’s head upon her shoulder.
“He shamed himself, sister. Your soul remains untouched.”
“Non,” she whispered, “it will never be all right for me again. And Avril — ”
It would be cruel to contest her now. Idelette needed silent comfort and support, anything else would feel like salt on wounds. Tomorrow would have time enough for such words.
They clung to one another until tears subsided. The chilly spring wind tugged at them. Rachelle could feel Idelette shaking from cold and shock. She had to get her back to the château to their mère. Idelette was always the strong one in her faith.
Now I must be the strong one.
From the corner of her eye, Rachelle noticed something move in the bushes. Non, not something, but someone.
Rachelle turned her head. Sir James Hudson crawled from between low-lying branches, tried to rise to his feet, then collapsed.
“It’s James!” Rachelle left Idelette to run to his side. She dropped to her knees beside him. “Monsieur Hudson!”
The young couturier from London was burned and bruised, his shirt torn with blood stains.
“I’m well — it’s my leg; back there — Pasteur Macquinet — ”
“Bertrand!” She jumped to her feet and pushed her way through the bushes, finding him. He was alive.
Rachelle rushed to where he lay beneath a tree, bruised and unconscious, but breathing. His eyelids flicked open and he tried to raise a hand toward her. “Avril . . . Idelette . . . ?”
Tears welled up in her eyes. “Rest, Cousin Bertrand, do not talk now. I am going for a wagon.” She turned to leave but his fingers curled around her hand. She looked down at him and saw the worry in his eyes. She swallowed, her throat dry.
“Idelette is alive, but Avril is not.”
His fingers loosened. His eyes closed. He gave a weak nod of his head. “She — will suffer no more . . .”
Rachelle squeezed his hand and quickly left him. As she came back to where James lay, she stooped down.
“I’m all right,” he said, nursing his leg. “Mostly bruises.”
It looked like more than bruises. “You were very brave, monsieur. We are in your debt.”
He looked off across the field toward the road. “Horsemen.” He attempted to sit up, but Rachelle pushed him back.
She stood and looked toward the half-dozen horsemen that drew up on the road.
She narrowed her eyes and gritted. “More beasts?”
Rachelle stepped away from James and glanced toward Idelette. She seemed disoriented and was sitting with her head resting on her knees, her arms wrapped around her legs.
Rachelle stood unmoving as the sound of the horses broke the uncanny stillness.
The questioning voices around her quickly turned from dismay to anger. “Are they coming back to kill the rest of us?” someone cried.
The horses drew nearer.
Could it be?
Marquis Fabien rode slowly forward with several men, whose faces she recognized from the last time they had been at the château.
The wind ruffled the white plume on Fabien’s broad-brimmed hat and the full sleeves of his linen shirt-tunic overlaid with a vest and sur-coat of velvet and gold. The horse jerked its head up, its nostrils flaring, as if the smell of battle was recognized.
Rachelle watched Fabien as his gaze inched over the scene of death and woe before him. He did not move or dismount. His knuckles turned white as he held the reins, and his jaw flexed.
His chief page, Gallaudet, turned his fair head toward him with open dismay.