Sneak Peek! Prologue from Masquerades and Musketeers

26 Jul

“How many times are you going to sigh, Bennett?” Daniel asked, smirking at his best friend. The carriage continued to roll silently along the mud-caked, bumpy road. Bennett simply glared at Daniel and then resumed his beautiful reverie, sighing once more out of pure spite. Bennett’s daydreams were the most predictable kind; they were of his fiancé, the lovely Scarlet Villiers of London, England. Their relationship had started back in the summer when Scarlet had come to Paris on vacation with a friend. Bennett had been riding with his cavalry troupe and they couldn’t help noticing each other every day in the village square. One day, they finally got to speak to each other. Over time, these talks had become frequent and their love for each other grew, but every meeting was always more cautious than the last. Bennett knew that Scarlet was the great-niece of the notorious Duke of Buckingham, one of France’s greatest enemies. How could Bennett possibly keep his esteem among his group of cavaliers if they knew he was courting a relative of their foe? In the same way, Scarlet strived to keep this information away from M. Devereux. He was her most trusted servant and body guard, even though he was only a couple years older than she was. He had been her father’s favorite servant, but this was before both of her parents had died a couple years before in a horse accident. Ever since then, M. Devereux had kept a tight hold on her and constantly watched her.
However, Bennett suffered from an injury that had been earned during a sword fight in August. This caused him to lose his left leg and he resigned his post of a cavalier in September. Finally, he didn’t have to worry about his reputation any longer. He and Scarlet made an agreement that they would run away and get married on October 2nd, which happens to be the night our story starts.
“What if Scarlet’s home is armed, Bennett? You are not in the best physical condition to fight,” Daniel asked. Bennett snapped out of his daydream and turned to face his friend.
“So be it, then,” Bennett said hastily. “Do you have a better idea?”
“Well, I could go with you inside the house,” Daniel suggested uneasily.
“Just because I’m injured,” Bennett spat out the word disdainfully, “doesn’t mean I cannot do anything by myself anymore. I shall be fine.”
“I know, but even responsible gentlemen like you need help at times,” Daniel said. “And I know I am not going to be with you the whole night. Remember? I promised to leave as soon as I get you two to the cathedral. I certainly do not want to be around after that,” Daniel said, smirking again.
The carriage stopped abruptly and with a mutual nod, Bennett stepped outside. The night was perfect for a runaway. The winds of autumn blew slightly in the mild night, adding a bit of chill to the air. Bennett felt his skin crawl. There was something about the breeze that made him feel a little uneasy, yet excited. It seemed to whisper of mystery, change, and adventure itself.
In front of Bennett’s eyes, the Villers’ mansion rose in all of its majesty. It was made of stone and even in the faint moonlight, he could see vines growing in between the cracks of the rocks like long, thin snakes. He wound his way around the rose garden, trying to avoid getting snagged by thorns, and arrived at the back of the house. There was a back door on the first floor and he stood at the step. Breathing heavily, he knocked five times and waited. Less than a second later, the door flew open and Scarlet appeared. She looked composed for the most part, but her eyes shown with a hint of nervousness.
“Everyone is gone,” Scarlet began awkwardly. “The servants are asleep…”
“Hang the servants! Where is M. Devereux? He is the one I am concerned about!” Bennett exploded quietly.
“He is gone,” Scarlet smiled devilishly. “I told him to go to the country for the weekend. He loves to hunt, you know, and doesn’t get a chance to very often. I haven’t seen him since this morning, but I am fairly certain he shall not be back before tomorrow night.”
“Good,” Bennett smiled. “Are you ready?”
“Yes, I just have to get one more box from upstairs,” Scarlet said.
“Do you need help?” Bennett asked.
“No, it is not heavy. I will be right back,” Scarlet said. She disappeared up the stairs and Bennett stepped inside the house to wait. He had found himself in the cellar. Shelves of cheese, pickled meat, and grapes made his stomach growl as he looked at the display that was as big as a village market. Wine was stacked neatly in crates and the bottles shown in the moonlight. There was more food there than had passed through his parent’s house in a year. Suddenly, Bennett saw a light and he jumped, doing a double take. He felt his heart start to beat faster and he began to get dizzy.
What is that? Bennett wondered, walking closer. His heart stopped and he backed up as he realized that the sparkle was not coming from the wine; it belonged to a pair of eyes peering at him from behind a barrel. Bennett tripped over a crate, but hurriedly picked himself up as the figure emerged from the dark corner. The shape was a man in a dull cloak and shining black boots. His eyes were a cold grey color and his light yellow hair and beard gave him a sickly appearance. His hand was drawn tightly with a menacing grip on the handle of his sword. Bennett recognized him as M. Devereux and instantly drew his own sword from its scabbard.
“You think you are so clever, Frenchman, but you will not get away with this. For months I have watched you and Scarlet together, waiting for her to come to her senses, but I see you have taken away her ability to reason as well as her pride. Think of her poor, dead father lying in his cold, senseless grave. Do you really think he would like his only child to marry a Frenchmen? And a cavalier at that!” M. Devereux thundered.
“I’m an ex-cavalier,” Bennett corrected hotly. “I can no longer serve my country as I should.”
“Weakness?” M. Devereux smiled, now seeing the piece of metal that hung from his knee in the place of a leg. “Your indiscretion was a fatal mistake, M. Bennett!” He lunged at Bennett, but the ex-cavalier was quick on his guard and fought back. Bennett’s sword hit M. Devereux’s weapon strong and hard, sending a giant orange spark flying in the night air. The battle between sword and strength had begun. Bennett soon saw that M. Devereux was much stronger than he, but did not have as much practice with a sword. Lunge, whip, lower thrust, stab, retaliate, defend, and offend. These were the steps of the sword fight that Bennett breathlessly executed again and again. A sudden, stifled cry of alarm interrupted his focus and he saw Scarlet standing in the doorway. She had returned with her box and was watching the scene with large, horrified eyes.
“M. Devereux,” she exclaimed. “I thought you went to the country!”
“That is what you would have liked to think, but I’m not so easy to get rid of,” M. Devereux snapped, still paying his attention to his opponent. Suddenly, M. Devereux whipped around, picked up a crate with his spare hand, and threw it at Bennett. The force knocked the ex-cavalier off his feet. He dropped his sword and flew back a few steps, crashing into a bag of apples that came tumbling down on his head.
“I could end you here and-”
“Ah!”
M. Devereux was interrupted by a violent, extemporaneous scream. Bennett saw Daniel race through the open door of the cellar and slash at his opponent’s outstretched hand. M. Devereux shrieked in horror and Bennett dimly saw part of an arm fall to the ground. M. Devereux collapsed about a yard away and continued his screaming and cursing. Daniel swiftly offered a hand to his friend and pulled Bennett off the ground.
“What shall we do with him?” Daniel asked.
“Don’t kill him,” Scarlet said frightfully from the doorway. “He was only trying to protect me.”
“That’s manageable,” Bennett said shakily. “Tie him up and leave him here. The servants will find him tomorrow.”
Daniel followed his friend’s orders and faced no opposition from Mr. Devereux, who was in too much agony to notice.
Scarlet, Bennett, and Daniel ran across the yard and into the carriage, slamming the door shakily behind them. Daniel gave orders to the driver and they continued for the first few miles in nervous silence. Everyone finally started to calm down once they realized that the worst was behind them, but still no one talked.
About an hour later, the carriage stopped and the group arrived at the proposed cathedral.
“Well, I will leave you two here now,” Daniel said, hastily stepping out of the carriage. “Take care, Bennett, and I hope to see you back in France.”
“Daniel,” Bennett cried urgently, leaving his fiancé in the carriage. “Thank you.”
“You are welcome,” Daniel smiled.
“No, really, thank you. I owe my life and Scarlet’s to you,” Bennett said with tears in his eyes. “I promise you that we will always be friends, and my family will love yours. We will never be separated, Daniel Wert, not by life or death. I promise.”
“I promise as well, Bennett Lebron,” Daniel said solemnly.
As Bennett watched his friend walk away in the shadowy fog of the approaching morning, he had no idea how real that promise was and what the consequences truly were.
~
Twelve years later…
“Beat you there!” Mason shouted to his friend, running across the meadow.
“Not if I can help it, Mason Wert!” Atrielle shouted, laughing. She picked up her dress and started to run, kicking her shoes off as she went. Atrielle squinted as the sun beat down on the golden fields. After a long winter, spring was welcome. The flowers had already grown high enough to reach young Atrielle’s knees and they constantly pricked her. The air even smelt like flowers…achoo! Atrielle stopped to sneeze and Mason laughed.
“I beat you there like I said I would,” Mason said proudly.
“That is only because I had to sneeze,” Atrielle said, irritated that a boy had beaten her. Mason shrugged and sat down. Atrielle followed his example.
“It is such a beautiful day,” Atrielle said, observing the few clouds that dotted the sky. “I want it to last forever. I don’t want to start lessons tomorrow,” Atrielle moaned.
“Is it really as terrible as you say?” Mason asked.
“Yes,” Atrielle answered seriously. “I sometimes enjoy them, but other times I feel trapped inside the world of dancing, knitting, cooking, and other such nonsense. And I have to do it! If I was a boy, I could pick what I wanted to do or be.”
“No, not necessarily,” Mason said slowly.
“What do you mean?” Atrielle asked.
“I mean a lot of times boys learn their father’s work, not necessarily what they want to learn.”
“Oh,” Atrielle said, seeming to reflect. “What are you going to learn?”
“Sword fighting,” Mason grinned. “Luckily, my father was a cavalier. I am going to go into training in Paris when I turn sixteen so I will be ready to fight by the time I am eighteen. I think I am going to be in the new legion of musketeers that the king just created,” Mason continued.
“That’s a long time away. You’re only ten,” Atrielle said.
“You have to get ready for these things,” Mason shrugged.
“Is being a musketeer really your wish? What if you could do anything you want?” Atrielle asked after a moment’s silence.
“My wish is to live until I’m old. Being filthy rich wouldn’t hurt, either,” Mason joked. “But being a musketeer would be a close second wish.”
“Atrielle! Mason! It’s time for dinner,” a voice called. Daniel Wert and Bennett Lebron stood at the edge of the meadow with their wives, Susan and Scarlet, watching their children play.
“Remember that promise we made right before I got married? How we said our families would always be friends?” Bennett asked, turning to Daniel.
“Yes,” Daniel nodded.
“You see it in action,” Bennett grinned.

_________________________________________________________________

An excerpt from Brooke Norris’s upcoming novel Masquerades and Musketeers.

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