Like my other novels, I’m posting the opening here so you get a taste of what the book is like. Hope you enjoy and feel free to comment.
The dress had looked beautiful in the morning when her maid dressed her, but now it weighed on Marriette like a heavy chain. She rested her hand on her husband’s arm to maintain balance as she navigated the rough cobbles forming the street in this district of Bellopolis.
“I hadn’t expected the simple act of opening a school to require such a circus.” Marriette leaned a little more on Torrance’s arm. As the King’s Ward and Regent, she would not give in to exhaustion. She looked around at the people, both those protecting her and those who came to see her.
Marshal prowled ahead of her examining everything from the crowds to the windows overlooking the street. Men in the crowd watched too. Three more followed behind her. Torrance held her right arm, and at her left the secretary of the day walked with a disapproving look etched on his face. From the slippers he wore, the man rarely left the palace walls. A maid walked behind the soldiers and at the tail end of the parade, a carriage rumbled along in case the Regent became tired.
Marriette was far beyond tired, but not ready to give in and ride. Her people had turned out in hundreds and thousands to see her. Marshal wouldn’t let her greet individuals, but she smiled and nodded to those who waved. One more block to the new school and at least she would be able to stand instead of walk. There might even be water.
Marshal stiffened and strode to the side of the road. A man quailed under the warrior’s glare. With good reason, as Marshal loomed over everybody—the tallest and biggest man Marriette had ever seen. It appeared from where she stood as if another poor soul had forgotten the edict and carried a belt knife.
As the man wilted, three more men burst out of the crowd carrying knives which might as well have been swords. Marriette drew breath to warn Marshal, but the men behind her were faster.
“Attack!” one of them shouted. Marshal pushed the man he was talking to away and dashed toward the three. One turned to face him while the other two charged toward Marriette. The soldiers behind ran to place themselves between her and the threat. Torrance pulled her back toward the carriage holding his drawn sword in his other hand. Another three men with knives jumped out of the crowd at her. The first impaled himself on Torrance’s sword. The second tangled in the body and he, the dead attacker, and Torrance went down in a heap.
The third man grinned and stalked toward Marriette. She backed up and tripped on a cobble. The dress made it impossible for her to find her footing again. Marriette landed hard on the pavement. A crack sounded from the hand she’d tried to catch herself with, and pain shot up into her shoulder. The attacker twirled his sword and let his grin widen.
Marriette’s skirts were up past her waist, her right hand broken and trapped beneath her. Her left hand scrabbled uselessly at the mounds of fabric. The maid screamed and ran at the man with the knife. He swatted at her, but missed. She stabbed at him with a comb, but it bounced off leather armor under his clothes. He swore at her and swung again, but once more missed by a hair’s breadth. The maid scratched his face with the comb and blood ran into his eye.
The attacker who had fallen with Torrance and the first man pushed himself to his feet and ran past his comrade. He kept trying to kill the maid yet inexplicably couldn’t succeed. The secretary placed himself between Marriette and the man, but the attacker punched him with the hilt of the knife without missing a step. He threw himself at Marriette and plunged the knife toward her heart. She tried to roll out of the way, but the dress held her pinned.
White hot pain seared through her as the knife cut through the jewelled bodice. One gem turned the blade enough so it didn’t find her heart. He raised his hand to try again but Torrance’s sword skewered his knife hand and twisted the knife away. Her husband’s boot connected soundly with the assassin’s head and the man rolled away, his eyes already glazing over.
Torrance knelt beside her and tried to stop the bleeding. The secretary tore his shirt sleeve away and handed it to Torrance. A brave gesture, but not enough to save her. The pain moved from being white hot to ice cold. Marriette shivered on the street. She tried to lift her hand to touch Torrance’s face, but even the comfort of touch lay beyond her strength.
An old woman pushed her way out of the crowd and knelt opposite from Torrance.
“Let me help her.”
“Please!” Torrance’s face crumpled with fear and hope.
She put her hands on Marriette’s wound and sang notes that set Marriette’s teeth on edge. She wanted to scream or cry, but no sound would come out. Her lungs held no air, and she couldn’t draw any in. The old woman leaned down and blew into Marriette’s mouth. Rank breath filled her and lifted her ribs.
She could breathe again.
Marshal loomed over the old woman.
“Stop.” She put her hand out in command. The pain vanished with the word. Marshal frowned but stepped back.
“Rest,” the old woman brushed her hand across Marriette’s right wrist. “And you’ll be fine.” She pushed herself to her feet, curtseyed to Marriette, then disappeared into the crowd.
“We should have held her for questioning,” Marshal looked after the old woman with a scowl on his face.
“She saved my life,” Marriette said.
“We must get you back to the palace and out of this dress.” The maid came over and arranged Marriette’s skirts carefully.
Two men lifted Marriette and carried her to the carriage. They handed her up to others who laid her on one seat.
“Thank you,” Torrance said, “we’ll be fine now.” The men nodded and closed the door after the maid climbed in.
“You are still holding your sword.” Marriette tried to keep her words light.
“I will carry it until you are safe within the palace walls.” He sat at Marriette’s head and planted the tip of his sword between his feet.
“It’s a shame about the dress. The colour is especially nice on you.” The maid used a damp cloth to clean Marriette’s face.
“You are brave,” Marriette said to the girl. Though when she looked harder the maid appeared closer to her age.
“You are my Queen,” the girl said, “I couldn’t let that horrible man hurt you.”
“But you could have been killed.” Marriette touched the maid’s cheek. “I would be terribly upset if you died because of me.”
“You’re a Queen.” The maid frowned slightly. “People are supposed to die for you.”
They arrived at the palace and servants came with a chair to take Marriette into her rooms.
More maids fussed over her while the maid who had ridden with her back from the attack broke down into tears and begged to be excused.
“Come back when you’re ready,” Marriette said. “I’m sure you saved my life.” The maid curtseyed and ran off weeping. Strange she would show no upset until they were safe, but everyone was different.
The dress vanished and Marriette was placed in a bath with hot water. A young girl sponged the blood from Marriette’s skin and looked with wide eyes at the scar marking the top of Marriette’s breast.
“When?” the girl asked.
“Just a short time ago. I was dying. I knew it, then an old woman came and healed me before disappearing again.” Marriette ran her finger along the scar and a faint echo of pain twinged her chest. “Apparently she healed my wrist as well.”
“Maybe she was a saint!” The girl’s eyes widened.
“The Doctor is here to see the Regent.”
“Bring me my robe,” Marriette said. “Let’s get this over with.”
The Doctor limped in, a man of indeterminate age who leaned on a cane. An assistant carried a large bag.
“Let’s see now.” The Doctor made opening motions with his hands. Marriette pulled her robe open far enough to show the scar. “Does it still hurt?”
“If I put pressure on it.”
“Hmmm.” The Doctor peered at the scar with his hands behind his back. “Not a complete healing then, but enough to stop the blood loss. Did you have trouble breathing?”
“Before she helped me,” Marriette said.
“As I thought, the knife punctured your lung. You are fortunate, your Majesty, even I would have a hard time preserving your life in such circumstance.” He stepped back from her and tilted his head. His sandy coloured eyes gazing into hers. “You must drink water to replace the blood you lost. I will speak to the kitchen about sending you plenty of red meat as well. Walk around if you must, but do not lift anything with your left arm for at least a week.”
“I barely lift anything with either arm.” Marriette let her exasperation at how everyone spoiled her tinge her words.
The Doctor put his hand over her right arm before nodding. “Your right arm is fine. You should have no problem.” He nodded in satisfaction. “If the pain returns or you bleed, have me summoned at once. You will want to avoid more such adventures if you wish your child to be born healthy and whole.” The Doctor reached back, and his assistant put a package in his hand. “For mild pain, make a tea of this and drink it with honey. Don’t overdo it.” He put the package on a table beside the chair, then bowed and left, followed by his assistant.
“Your Majesty!” The young girl who had helped her in the bath looked at her with a glowing smile. “An heir—your husband must be very pleased.”
“I’m sure he will be once he knows,” Marriette tugged her robe closed. The Doctor never touched her, or anyone else she’d ever seen. Yet he knew things about her that should be impossible. She’d only started to wonder this very week. She smiled and wrapped her arms around her. “Please go ask him to attend me here.” The girl curtseyed and ran out of the room. The other maids helped her don a dress to make sure she was properly attired for her husband.
Torrance strode into the room and knelt at Marriette’s feet.
“I should have been faster,” he said. “I let them slow me down.”
“You slowed them down as well.” Marriette touched his face. “And you were there when I needed you.”
“After you were wounded,” Torrance clenched his fist in the fabric of her skirt. “I was sure I had lost you.”
“We owe a debt to the old woman.”
“Marshal is out of sorts because none of his men can find her.”
“I will deal with Marshal in time.” Marriette put her hand on her husband’s shoulder and played with the hair that curled there. A few grey hairs hid among the dark.
“I have more momentous things to discuss.” She couldn’t keep the smile from her lips.
“More important than you almost dying on an assassin’s blade?”
“Much more important,” Marriette said. “It appears you are to have an heir.”
If Torrance’s head had snapped up much harder, he would have broken his neck. Tears he hadn’t shed over her on the road sprang to his eyes. Marriette couldn’t think of any more words she wanted to say. She pulled him to her as the maids discreetly left the room.
It didn’t take Torrance nearly as long to get the dress off her as it had taken the maids to put it on.
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