Tag Archives: Chapter One

M9B Friday Reveal: Chapter one of Vessel by Lisa T. Cresswell with Giveaway #M9BFridayReveals

M9B-Friday-Reveal

Welcome to this week’s M9B Friday Reveal!

This week, we are revealing chapter one of

Vessel by Lisa T. Cresswell

presented by Month9Books!

Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!

LCresswell_Vessel_M9B_eCover_1800x2700

The sun exploded on On April 18, 2112 in a Class X solar storm the likes of which humankind had never seen.

They had exactly nineteen minutes to decide what to do next.

They had nineteen minutes until a geomagnetic wave washed over the Earth, frying every electrical device created by humans, blacking out entire continents, and every satellite in their sky.

Nineteen minutes to say goodbye to the world they knew, forever, and to prepare for a new Earth, a new Sun.

Generations after solar storms destroyed nearly all human technology on Earth, humans reverted to a middle ages-like existence, books are burned as heresy, and all knowledge of the remaining technology is kept hidden by a privileged few called the Reticents.

Alana, a disfigured slave girl, and Recks, a traveling minstrel and sometimes-thief, join forces to bring knowledge and books back to the human race. But when Alana is chosen against her will to be the Vessel, the living repository for all human knowledge, she must find the strength to be what the world needs even if it’s the last thing she wants.

add to goodreadsTitle: Vessel
Publication date: May 2015
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: Lisa T. Cresswell

Available for Pre-order:
amazon

excerpt

Prologue
A Class-X solar storm, the likes of which humankind had never seen, erupted from the Sun on April 18, 2112.
They had nineteen minutes.
Nineteen minutes until the geomagnetic wave washed over the Earth, frying every man-made electrical device, blacking out entire continents and every satellite in their sky.
Nineteen minutes to say goodbye to the world they knew forever and prepare for a new Earth, a new way of life.
All digital data was lost, all the knowledge of the centuries past gone in an instant. Unable to feed themselves without technology, humans began to die of starvation and disease. At first thousands, then millions, and, finally, billions died. The survivors fought amongst themselves for the scraps until there were almost none left.

 

Part I Alana

 

Chapter 1

Year 2165
Master Dine’s kick sent me sprawling into the wall. Pain bloomed in my shoulder. That was nothing new, but my billa slipped dangerously close to falling off. I grasped at the awkward headgear, a giant tent designed to hide my ugliness.
No one must see, I thought.
“It’s too hot, you stupid chit,” Master Dine yelled.
At seventeen, I was officially a woman and had been for a while, but no one gave a slave girl that recognition.
“Now look what you’ve done,” he said. The clay teapot I’d been using to pour water over Master’s feet lay shattered on the floor. “Clean it up, chit.”
I silently seethed as I collected the pieces. I wasn’t a chit. I was Alana, a name I’d given myself and no one else used. I cursed him under my billa, something he’d never hear through the dark, black drapes shrouding me from everyone. I prayed Mother Sun would do terrible things to him, something that didn’t make me feel any better.
“When you’re done with that, go help Master Tow. He’s expecting you.”
“But your bath?”
“I’ll do it myself,” Master Dine spat at me, as if he didn’t trust me, as if I hadn’t been washing his feet every morning since I was old enough to hold soap.
Master Dine was one of the oldest men in our village at almost forty, too mean to die of flu fever like most old men. He’d caught it once or twice, but it only seemed to make him more determined to live.
“Yes, Master,” I whispered and ducked out of the room with the remains of the teapot. I threw them in the garbage pit behind the house as I left for Master Tow’s. I’d have to make a new one later. I wondered when I would find the time to gather the clay from the riverbank, which was a fair walk from here. Where was here? Master Dine’s village was called Roma.
Master Dine reminded me constantly I wasn’t from this place—my eyes too almond-shaped, my hair too black, and my skin too yellow to be from Roma. My looks didn’t stop him from slinking into my room in the darkness to have his way with me. I was his, bought from my own parents in a faraway place, he always said. Even in the dark, he made me cover my face. I closed my eyes anyway. Maybe if I couldn’t see Master Dine with his lazy eye and crooked teeth, he’d cease to exist. Please, Mother Sun, make it so.

***

I walked down the dirty footpath toward Roma’s center market square, past the mud and stone houses scraped together with whatever the inhabitants could find. It was early yet; fog still clung to the base of the mountains and dripped off the trees’ new leaves. Winter was breaking at last. Mother Sun had saved us again, but we always knew she could destroy us if she wanted to.
I didn’t mind wearing the billa so much when the weather was cool or misty like this morning. It trapped my own warm breath around me like a cocoon. It made doing chores outside awkward, though. Master Dine kept me primarily for house chores, although I was allowed to shop on market day, and he occasionally lent me to Master Tow. Tow had no wives and probably needed his house cleaned.
Master Tow was a young man in his twenties, still undecided on a wife. Suitable women were rare in Roma, so he was faced with the prospect of waiting until certain girls came of age or traveling to the next province for a wife. The expense of a wife was more than Tow really wanted, so he borrowed me from time to time. It was an arrangement he had with Dine, made possible by Dine’s first wife, Mistress Shel. Shel hated my position in her house as a sort of third wife, a standing I could never truly attain even if I wanted to. It was Shel who had disfigured the right side of my face years ago. It hadn’t stopped Dine’s visits to me, just made him more discrete.
Master Tow was chopping wood in the small yard next to his house. His clothes, littered with fine shavings of fir, made him smell better than usual. He was stripped to the waist, his pale chest glistening with sweat even in the morning cold. I stopped and waited. I could never address anyone without first being addressed myself. I learned that very young.
Master Tow continued his work, perhaps enjoying the fact that I was his audience. He often flirted with me, even though he had no reason to tease a slave. I think he was quite proud of his own blond hair that fell to his shoulders. Taunting all the unsuitable women in town seemed to please him tremendously. And so I stood perfectly still, watching the breeze blow the fabric in front of my face until he finally spoke.
“Hello, chit,” he said, taking a break from his chopping.
“Master Dine said you were expecting me.”
“So I am.” Tow breathed heavily, his ribs showing under his creamy skin with each exhale. He dropped his hatchet in the dirt at his feet and held up two fingers beckoning me to follow him behind his house. I hesitated. Wasn’t I doing housework? What did Tow have in store for me?
“C’mon, chit! Haven’t got until sundown,” he called, his tone good-natured as always.
I couldn’t shake the feeling he was playing a trick on me, but I followed him down the hill behind his house through a thicket of small aspen just beginning to bud. I soon saw it was a shortcut he used to reach the square rather than taking the main path that switch-backed down the mountain. Although it was easy for him, the trees snagged the fabric of my billa.
“Come on!” his voice urged. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I heard him muttering under his breath about my ridiculous garb. None of the other slaves wore what I wore. I stood out wherever I went—a black ghost in a crowd of humans. Everyone knew it was my punishment for tempting Dine. That’s what Shel told them and most believed it.
I did my best to keep up with Tow. Once out of the shrubs, it was easier to match his pace. He headed for the crumbling castle perched on a precipice over the wide green valley on the edge of Roma. Eons ago, before the Great Death that wiped out billions, some strange unknown race had built castles all across this region. Most were rubble now.
No one lived there, but the people of Roma sometimes stored things in some of the rooms or held meetings there. Windows long gone, the arches still stood in places, the stone thick with moss and lichens silently feasting on the remains of the beast. It was a forgotten place, somewhere I rarely went because I wasn’t invited to public affairs. As Tow and I got close, I heard the sound of someone singing a sad melody in a cool, clear voice. Even the birds in the trees were drawn to it, flitting away only when we came near.
As I followed Tow down a stone stairway littered with last winter’s dead leaves into the ruins and closer to the voice, my fears melted away and curiosity overcame me. Tow couldn’t walk fast enough now. Who was it? And why were they here? The singing suddenly stopped.
Deep inside the castle, where little sunshine could penetrate, Tow stopped at an old door with a small slit for a tiny window. A boy’s face, not much older than mine, with dark hair and eyes like mine, peered out of the opening.
“You can’t keep us in here,” the boy said, his voice angry.
“Don’t worry. It won’t be long before the authorities come for you. A week at the most,” said Tow. He turned to me. “These two were caught last night stealing. You need to feed them at least once a day, no more. Just enough to keep them alive for their trial.”
“Trial?” I asked.
“The Reticents have been summoned. They’ll send someone to pick them up.”
“But what do I feed them, Master Tow?”
Everyone’s winter stores were running low and few spring crops had been harvested yet. Master Dine wouldn’t allow me to use his food for such a purpose.
“Hog feed will do.”
“Hog feed?” shouted the prisoner. “We’re not animals!” I flinched and backed away from him.
“Never you mind that, chit. Do as you’re told. Put the food in here.” Master Tow pointed to a small slot near the floor with the toe of his boot. “Don’t open the door, no matter what.”
“Yes, Master Tow.”
“Any questions?”
“Have they been fed today?”
“No. Better get to work.”
Master Tow turned and bounded up the stairs. I stood motionless, watching the black-eyed boy watching me. I’d never seen anyone like me before. He looked hard at the billa like he could see underneath.
“Do you have any water?” he asked in an accent I didn’t recognize. “He’s very weak.”
The prisoner backed away from the door so I could creep up and peer inside. The oldest man I’d ever seen, maybe fifty years or more, lay on the floor. He groaned as the boy knelt down and touched his arm.
“I’m here,” he said to the old man. Before I knew it, I’d loosened the water bag I kept tied at my hip and pushed it through the hole in the wall toward them.
“Take this. I’ll be back,” I whispered before hurrying to find food.

***

Normally I fed the hogs caysha roots I dug up in the forest. A person could eat them and survive, but they weren’t kind to the stomach. They were a last resort, eaten only when all else was gone. I’d eaten them myself when the winters were hard and Master Dine saved all his food for his family. Slaves weren’t supposed to forage for their own food. It was a sign a family wasn’t wealthy enough to support them, but Dine looked the other way quite often. He allowed me to find other means of sustenance when times called for it, which was more often than not. The less of his food I ate, the more wealthy he fancied himself.
I walked as quickly as I could without attracting attention to a meadow below the castle where the caysha had started to bloom, blue lilies on tall stems. I dug a few roots to satisfy Master Tow, but I had no intention of feeding them to the prisoners. I dropped them in my basket and slung it over my shoulder, heading for the river. Checking my traps, I found a snared rabbit and smiled for the first time that day. Not that anyone knew or cared. I spent my days alone in a tent made for one, seldom speaking to anyone. But something in that boy’s eyes reached out to me behind the curtain. I wasn’t going to serve him hog feed. My decision risked a beating, but it wouldn’t mean my death. Though I didn’t fear death anyway.

***

An hour had passed by the time I returned to the ruined castle dungeon with food, water, and fuel. Midday was approaching yet the prisoners made no sound. I hoped to hear his song again the way I longed for the lark song after winter. Like a mouse cleaning up crumbs, I silently cleared away the leaves in a dark corner near the stairs and built a cooking fire. The smell of roasting meat brought the boy’s face to the hole in the door once more.
“You’re torturing me,” he complained, although his lips smiled.
“It won’t be much longer,” I said, crossing the room to the door between us. “I brought more water. Give me the water bag, and I’ll refill it.” He scrambled to retrieve the bag and return it.
“How is he?” I asked, looking at the impossibly old man.
“Better. Some real food will do him good.”
I handed the boy some jake nuts through the slot in the wall. “Chew these. They’ll help keep the food down.”
He shoved the handful into his mouth.
“Save one for him,” I said, pointing to the old man. The boy chewed hard but managed to spit out one nut for his friend. He knelt by the man again and shook his arm.
“Kinder? Wake up. It’s dinner time.” The old man sat up with the boy’s help, leaning against the stone wall. “Eat this,” he said, giving him the nut.
I refilled the water and retrieved the rabbit from the spit on the fire. It had started to burn, the grease glistening on the meat. Too big to fit through the slot, the rabbit had to be torn into pieces and slipped into the cell. The boy snatched it from my fingers and rushed to the old man, who suddenly came alive, devouring it. The boy returned and snagged a second piece for himself, ignoring me as he inhaled his food. I waited by the slot with the rest of the meat, holding it until they were ready for it. The sounds of eating, chewing, and licking made me hungry, but I didn’t eat any. The rabbit would’ve been my lunch, but I’d eat wild carrots instead.
I gave them the remains of the rabbit and returned to the corner to put out my fire. Master Tow mustn’t know I’d cooked, so I hid my hearth as best I could with damp leaves and rubble. The moss on the stone walls would hide any sign of smoke. I turned to go.
“Wait,” called the boy. “What’s your name?”
The words I’d never heard directed at me, the words I dreamt of every night, came from his lips. Was he speaking to me? Of course he was. There was no one else here.
“Is it Chit?”
“No. I’m Alana.” I’d never told anyone the name I chose for myself. It felt good to say it out loud.
“Thank you, Alana. I’m Recks, and this is Kinder. We’re grateful for your kindness. May Mother Sun shine on you.”
I stopped breathing for a second. No one had ever blessed me before. It just wasn’t done. I waited as if the sky might fall down. There was nothing but the sound of Kinder sucking the marrow from his rabbit bones.
“Is something wrong?” asked Recks.
“No,” I said. “I should go.” I suddenly remembered the bones. “Hide the bones when you’re done.”
“Kinder will eat them all.” Recks smiled at me and snickered at the thought.
“I’ll bring more tonight,” I told him.
“But Tow said once a day … ”
“What Tow doesn’t know won’t trouble him.” I hurried up the steps.
“Be careful,” warned Recks, as if he might actually be concerned for my safety. Hidden tears leaked from my eyes.
As I walked back to Master Dine’s house, I had an overwhelming urge to throw the billa off and feel the sun on my shoulders. Mother Sun could bless me too, even if she never had before. But if I did, I knew I would never see Recks again. Instead, I clasped my hands together under my billowy tent in happiness, knowing the feeling could escape me like mist in the sunlight.

***

I left the house again at sunset, making Shel smile. Dine would assume I went foraging, which I did, but not so much for myself this time. Recks and Kinder needed me. I was thankful for the billa, which allowed me to stow extra supplies—flint, a blanket, and some socks—without being noticed. The goods were mine, the cast-offs of others, and wouldn’t be missed.
I openly carried my caysha basket still filled with the roots I had collected that morning. Carefully wrapped underneath those were three sunflower seed cakes made with the last of our honey the summer before. Shel had thrown them in the refuse because they were too hard for her taste, dried out from a long winter in storage. Recks and Kinder were in dire need of fattening up. I worried Kinder might not last the week, even with a bit of honey. I stopped by one of my snares on my way through the forest, lucky to have caught a partridge. I plucked its soft feathers inside the billa as I walked to the ruins, my fingers working without me looking down. I couldn’t be gone long or someone would notice.
At first, the prisoners were so quiet I thought perhaps they had escaped. I used the flint to light a small torch so I wouldn’t fall down the steps.
“Alana? Is that you?” came Recks’s voice from the darkness.
“Yes.” Alana? He said my name. My heart raced in my chest faster than when I was sneaking around, faster than from my fear of Dine or Tow. I held the torch up to see inside the door.
“You shouldn’t have come, but I’m glad you did,” said Recks. “I have something for you.”
“For me?” Was he mad? He had nothing but an old man. I set about building a fire to roast the partridge.
“I may not look like much, but I’m a gifted performer.”
“A performer?”
“A teller of tales, singer of songs—”
“Stealer of goods!” yelled Kinder. He obviously felt better. He had at least found his voice again.
“What?” I asked, blowing gently on my fire to make it grow.
“Recks has sticky fingers, which is what got us into the fix we presently find ourselves,” said Kinder.
“I don’t hear you complaining when you’re enjoying the spoils, old man.”
“What did you take?” I asked, skewering the bird and laying it over the flames.
“Only a heel of bread,” Recks insisted. “We’re seldom paid for the service we provide.”
“Is Kinder a performer too?”
“In a manner of speaking. He is an academic, a man of studies.”
“What does he study?”
“I’m right here, you know,” Kinder grumbled from behind the door.
“Be more polite to the woman who saved your life, fool. Don’t you know how close you are to death’s embrace?”
“Better the devil you know than the one you don’t,” muttered Kinder.
“What?” I approached the door again.
“Never mind him,” said Recks. “He’s overly fond of proverbs.”
“I’ve brought some things that will help with the chill,” I said, pulling out the blanket and the woolen socks. I’d have to find replacements for myself for next winter. Recks gasped in pleasure at the sight of the gifts.
“What is it?” Kinder demanded, unable to see. I fed the blanket through the slot to Recks, who laughed as he pulled it through. As before, he rushed it over to Kinder, spreading it out over him.
“You’ll have to hide it when Tow comes,” I said, stuffing the socks through the same hole.
“Of course,” said Recks, pulling the socks onto his hands and admiring them. “What else have you got under there?”
I flinched under the billa as if Recks saw right through it. He could never see me. No one could.
“Nothing,” I said. “Is there something else you require?”
“A key to the lock would be dandy.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t know where Master Tow keeps it.”
“Ah well, he’s not a stupid man, is he? He caught us. Not an easy thing to do.”
I retreated back to tend the fire and the little roasting bird, which smelled delicious.
“So my gift to you, Alana, is a tale,” said Recks. “It’s not much, but it’s all I have.”
I sat down, making myself as comfortable as I could considering the rubble that littered the room. I’d seen street performers from time to time, but I’d never been so close or had the time to really listen. For a minute, the only sound was the popping of the dry sticks in the fire. Then Recks cleared his throat.
“You’ll have to forgive me. This isn’t the best place for telling stories.”
“Never stopped you before,” grumbled Kinder.
“Shush,” Recks told him. “Your dinner’s coming. Do you have any favorites, Alana?”
The few stories I knew were ones told by Dine’s first wife to her children. They were short and generally brutal, told to teach some lesson when they misbehaved. They weren’t the kind of tales I wanted to hear.
“I don’t know any stories.”
“That’s impossible. Did your mother never tell you ‘The Fox and the Hen’? And everyone knows ‘The Ruby Quiver.’”
“No, no one’s ever told me any stories.”
“Why not?”
“Recks, you nitwit. Can’t you see the girl’s a slave?” barked Kinder.
“How can that be? She walks freely.”
“Ask her yourself. Not all are enslaved by chains. Who would wear that willingly?”
“Is it true, Alana?”
“Yes,” I said, turning the meat with my fingertips.
“But why are you here? Why don’t you run?”
“And go where? It’s all like here, isn’t it?”
“No. The world is a wide, wondrous place. It’s not all like Roma.”
“Thank Mother Sun for that!” exclaimed Kinder. “Is the meat done yet?”
“Done enough, I suppose,” I said, pulling the stick of roast partridge away from the flames. “It’s not much,” I said as I walked it over to the men in the cell and put it in the slot.
“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush!” Kinder said, clearly delighted. They both devoured it eagerly, even as it burned their fingers and tongues. They groaned in pleasure and pain, but they didn’t stop eating until every bite was gone. When I dug the sunflower seed cakes out of the basket, they both smiled as if I’d presented them with the key to their freedom.
“We should get arrested in Roma more often,” said Kinder, crunching on the sticky cake. “I can’t remember when I’ve eaten so well.”
“Me neither,” said Recks, licking the honey from his fingers. “Just for that, I’m going to tell you the best story I know.”
“I can’t stay much longer. I’ll be missed.”
“Then I’ll be quick about it,” said Recks, wiping his hands on his shabby tunic and then holding them palms up toward the sky. “Mother Sun knows the hearts of all men. May they all please her.”
That I’d heard many times. It was the traditional prayer before beginning any work. One never knew what might displease Mother Sun, so it was customary to let her know your intentions were good in the hope that she would take pity on you.
“In the Time of Great Darkness, there lived a young boy. He had lost everyone and everything he’d ever known: his mother, his father, and his sister dead with many thousands of others. His village overflowed with the dead. No one was left to bury them all. Mother Sun willed it so, but she let this one boy live. He was special, wise beyond his years, and Mother Sun knew he could found a new race of men. She guided him to a sacred valley, high in the mountains, far from his home. On his journey, he met others like himself—thinkers, artists, healers, poets, and storytellers. They banded together and sought to create a world better than the one before the Time of Great Darkness. They built their city on the cliffs above a valley, where they live in comfort. To this day, they grow all they need. Everyone helps, none go hungry, and there are no slaves.”
“No slaves?” I asked, incredulous.
“Ask Kinder. He’s actually been there,” said Recks.
“You have?”
“Many moons ago. Then I got a crazy notion about wanting to study the peoples of the West. Now I wish I’d never left.”
“No fool like an old fool, huh, Kinder?” teased Recks.
The call of an owl outside reminded me I was in Roma, not a magical, shining city of freedom.
“I have to go,” I said, standing up. I doused the embers of the fire with my water bag, sending steam hissing into the air.
“Alana?” Recks whispered through the hole in the door. Two of his fingers poked out, reaching for me in the darkness.
“Yes?”
“Did you like the story?”
“Like” seemed too casual a word for how I felt. Overwhelmed was a better choice. It stretched my imagination, showed me how much I didn’t know about the world. I trembled, knowing I’d remember this story for the rest of my pitiful life. Now in the cover of darkness, I reached out of the billa and touched his two warm, rough fingers with one of my own.
“Yes.”

About-the-Author

Lisa T. Cresswell

Lisa, like most writers, began scribbling silly notes, stories, and poems at a very young age. Born in North Carolina, the South proved fertile ground to her imagination with its beautiful white sand beaches and red earth. In fifth grade, she wrote, directed and starred in a play “The Queen of the Nile” at school, despite the fact that she is decidedly un-Egyptian looking. Perhaps that’s why she went on to become a real life archaeologist?

Unexpectedly transplanted to Idaho as a teenager, Lisa learned to love the desert and the wide open skies out West. This is where her interest in cultures, both ancient and living, really took root, and she became a Great Basin archaeologist. However, the itch to write never did leave for long. Her first books became the middle grade fantasy trilogy, The Storyteller Series. Her first traditionally published work, Hush Puppy, is now available from Featherweight Press.

Lisa still lives in Idaho with her family and a menagerie of furry critters that includes way too many llamas!

 

Connect with the Author: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

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M9B Friday Reveal: Chapter One of The Perilous Journey of the Not-So-Innocuous Girl by Leigh Statham and Giveaway #M9BFridayReveals

M9B-Friday-Reveal

Welcome to this week’s M9B Friday Reveal!

This week, we are revealing the first chapter for

 by Leigh Statham

presented by Month9Books!

Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!

The Perilous Journey

Lady Marguerite lives a life most 17th century French girls can only dream of: Money, designer dresses, suitors and a secure future. Except, she suspects her heart may be falling for her best friend Claude, a common smithie in the family’s steam forge. When Claude leaves for New France in search of a better life, Marguerite decides to follow him and test her suspicions of love. Only the trip proves to be more harrowing than she anticipated. Love, adventure and restitution await her, if she can survive the voyage.

add to goodreads

Title: THE PERILOUS JOURNEY OF
THE NOT-SO-INNOCUOUS GIRL
Publication date: 2015
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: Leigh Statham

Chapter-by-Chapter-header---Excerpt

The Perilous Journey of the Not-So-Innocuous Girl

Leigh Statham

Chapter One

Marguerite held the brass cricket gingerly in her hands. She kept it tucked under the table while she turned it over, her fingers blindly memorizing every feature. She knew it was childish for a sixteen-year-old to have a favorite toy, but she couldn’t help it. The design fascinated her. Occasionally she would trip the mechanism and the cricket literally sprang to life, launching itself against the underside of the table with a loud knock.
“What was that?” Madame Pomphart cried.
Marguerite caught the little metal bug with one hand and tucked it into the folds of her skirts. “Nothing,” she lied.
“I heard a noise.” The sour-faced governess slapped the desk with her pointer and stepped closer. “What are you hiding?”
Marguerite didn’t flinch. “You must be hearing things again. You are getting rather old.”
Madame Pomphart swung her pointer, making sound contact with Marguerite’s shoulder.
“Ah!” Marguerite grabbed her shoulder and jumped to her feet, knocking her chair over. She quite forgot about the little toy cricket which launched right at the governess’s face.
“What? Oh!” Madame Pomphart batted the air and stumbled backward, dropping her stick as the cricket ricocheted off her nose and landed at Marguerite’s feet. “How dare you bring vermin into my classroom? Your father will hear about this. Lord Vadnay will not be pleased!”
Marguerite scooped up her prize and ran for the door, grateful for the chance to escape.
“Get back here or you’ll receive double lashings!”
It was too late. Marguerite ran much faster than her teacher and was already halfway down the wide corridor. Lined with portraits of long-dead relatives and her father’s collection of modern weaponry, each display tempted her with thoughts of challenging the governess to a duel. She could easily scoop up one of the automated cat-o-nine-tails and turn back to the classroom. She rather fancied the idea, actually. But it wasn’t the right time or the right way to handle her heavy-handed caretaker, and honestly, she wasn’t quite brave enough to do more than talk back—not yet.
Her fear began to lift as she lightly descended the grand curving stairway to the ballroom, sprinting over the marble tiles and through the large doors to the gardens. The French summer sun blinded her. Marguerite blinked as she continued to run around the fountain filled with automated koi. A servant perched on the edge of the large pool, brass fish in hand. Its tail clicked furiously back and forth as he tried to oil it. The late-summer roses bloomed bright with color all around her. Butterflies seemed to flit merrily on every blossom, cheering her on. Human and automaton servants worked side by side grooming the large hedges … They jumped out of her way and bowed. None of them seemed surprised to see the young lady of the house running out of doors and they all knew where she was headed.
She tried to slip away to the cool shelter of the small glen beyond the lavender fields every chance she could, but since her father came up with the idea that she needed to be a “real lady,” it had become more difficult to sneak away.
At this point, she could have stopped. Pomphart wouldn’t follow her now, but it felt so good to move quickly after being at a table all morning. Her heart beat like an auto-hammer in her chest by the time she reached the work fields. More automatons and human servants stopped and bowed to the master’s daughter. Marguerite paid them no attention.
Finally reaching the small grove of trees, she flopped merrily on the soft grass and took a deep breath, then giggled to herself. She was safe, for now. The wind picked up and tousled the leaves overhead, sending bits of sunlight swimming wildly around her. The grass outside the glen rustled under the heavy thud of work boots: Claude.
“Hullo!” His voice sounded merry as he peered through the low branches that poked and tickled at the earth, surprised to see her there so early. “How’d you manage to beat me?” His wavy, light brown hair was just shaggy enough to soften his strong jaw and angular nose. His cheek was smeared with gear oil, right up to the corner of his smiling blue eyes. He was too tall for his work trousers and his chest had grown too broad for his cotton shirt. The buttons tugged a bit, but he wasn’t the type to care about his clothes. He pulled his welding goggles off of his head and wiped the sweat on his brow with the arm of his shirt.
“I ran.” She smiled wickedly.
Claude flopped down in the grass beside her. “That’s not very ladylike, and Pomphart doesn’t usually let you out till half past.”
“I had to run after this marvelous toy you made for me attacked her.” She held up the cricket like a prize gem freshly plucked from the earth.
“Marguerite!” he cried. “I asked you to keep it safe, not use it to get yourself tossed out of ladyhood!”
“It was an accident. I swear. The lessons are just so boring. I needed something to do, so I had it under the table. She’s such a brute. You should have seen how she hit me with her blasted pointer.”
“She struck you again?” his face turned dark.
“Yes, but it’s nothing, just a welt on the shoulder.” The last thing she wanted was to be the damsel in distress.
“Still.” Claude’s brow furrowed. “It’s not right. Ladies don’t strike other ladies. Please keep good care of that little bug. It took me a long time to build and I didn’t record the plans. I may need to borrow it back someday.”
“All right.” Disappointed at his lack of enthusiasm for her naughtiness, she carried on. “But you should have seen her face! If only I could have a portrait made of that. I’d hang it over my bed and have a miniature made to keep by my heart.”
A nasally voice attached to a pointy-faced, pale girl in bright pink skirts burst through the cool glen. “Whose miniature are you keeping by your heart? You haven’t even had your ball yet.”
“Hello, Vivienne.” Marguerite sighed without enthusiasm.
“Marguerite has just sealed her doom,” Claude chimed in. “She threw the cricket I made her at Pomphart’s face today, so there may not be a ball.”
“That’s rubbish! I did no such thing. It just got away from me and bounced right off her nose.” Marguerite laughed again while recalling the image, but Claude’s words made her a bit nervous.
“Oh dear,” cried Vivienne. “What are you going to do?”
Of course Vivienne would make a big deal out of it, Marguerite didn’t expect anything less from her childish neighbor.
“I’m not sure. That’s why I came straight here.” She turned pointedly to Claude. “I thought you’d want to celebrate my freedom and take the rest of the day off.”
Claude was quick to reply, “I’m afraid I can’t. Lots to be finished at the forge and I am on stall-mucking duty with the bots.”
“What do you possibly have to finish at the forge that’s so important?”
Claude raised his eyebrows at her. “A certain girl’s father has requested automatic serving dishes made of twenty-four-karat gold for her introduction to society.”
“Oh my!” Vivienne drew a dramatic breath. “How elegant. I so wish I were old enough to come.”
“Don’t worry,” Marguerite patted the girl’s knee, “I’m sure you can borrow them for your own ball.”
“Marguerite … ” Claude hissed at her.
It wasn’t a very kind thing to say, but Marguerite had never been very fond of Vivienne. She mostly endured her company because she was the only girl within a hundred miles that was close to the same age and station as Marguerite. That, and Claude had insisted she be kind to her.
“You’re right, Claude.” Marguerite smiled in repentance. “I’m sure your father will have loads of wonderful things for the guests to marvel at when your time comes, Vivienne. Still, it would be nice to have both of you there. I suppose I will be forced to talk to strangers.”
“I can’t believe you’re not excited!” Vivienne chattered. “New dresses! Handsome suitors!”
“I am excited,” Marguerite cut her off, “to have it over and done with! Dressing up might be fun, but dressing up to catch a man is not my idea of a good time.”
“Don’t be vulgar.” Vivienne blushed. “It’s not like that at all.”
Claude cut in, “I’d love to stay and discuss this matter with you girls, but I do have a few chafing dishes waiting for their motors in the shop.”
Marguerite tensed at the thought of not only being left alone with Vivienne, but also being without Claude’s protection should Pomphart come looking for her. “Do you think I could come help you at the forge today?”
“Not if you want me to get anything done.” Claude smiled merrily.
“Stop it! You know I’m a whiz with gear-work.”
“When you are actually interested in the work, yes, but I’m afraid that auto-spoons and brass tureens would bore you to death.”
Marguerite tried to make her eyes look large and beseeching, but she knew it was no use.
“No. But you can walk me there. I forgot my lunch anyway,” Claude said as he reached to help Marguerite up.
“I didn’t exactly have time to grab a snack as I fled the dungeons,” Marguerite quipped.
“Oh! I know!” Vivienne was bursting. “Let’s have lunch in town today. You’re not going back to your lessons are you? And Claude is busy with work. It will be such fun girl time!”
Marguerite sighed, but Vivienne was right. There was no way for her to return to the estate house without being trapped by Pomphart, and she had nothing to do if Claude insisted on finishing his chores. Still, she was uneasy about the idea of being on her own with Pomphart’s wrath hovering around an unknown corner waiting to pounce. The woman was ruthless when no one of importance was watching. She had a way of getting Marguerite off on her own and exacting whatever form of punishment she felt was suitable for the crime. Marguerite tried to complain to her father, but he wouldn’t listen, he thought Marguerite just didn’t want lessons anymore.
Claude knew all of this and sensed her fears in her quiet gaze.
“Come with me, both of you. I have someone I want you to meet.” Claude smiled.
Marguerite jumped up at his tug, tossed her wavy brown hair, and set her skirts aright, glad someone was helping her make up her mind. “Very well.”
“Hooray! Oh, I know just the place,” Vivienne said. “There is a new little patisserie I saw the other day I’ve been aching to try.” She skipped up the hill ahead of the other two, babbling on about buns and cakes and half sandwiches.
Claude reached for Marguerite’s arm and squeezed a bit. He used this gesture when he was about to chastise her, but she didn’t think she’d been that rude to Vivienne. The girl got on her nerves with every word, but her intentions were good and Marguerite wasn’t cruel by nature, just impatient.
“What?” she hissed.
“I have some news, but I wanted to tell you first.”
“Oh?” Relieved not to be in trouble, but also perplexed, Marguerite wished more now than ever that Vivienne would just skip into oblivion with her bouncy blonde curls and scattered thoughts.
“Yes. You know how we spoke a few weeks ago about my plans?”
“Did you find a position in Paris?” Marguerite could scarcely contain herself. Her friend was so talented, and she knew better than anyone that he was wasted working as a bondservant on her father’s estate. If he could secure an apprenticeship in Paris he could come back to La Rochelle as a master tradesman. Plus she could visit him there. Still, apprenticeships were hard to come by.
“No, I think it’s better than that.”
“What could be better than Paris?” In her mind, crowds of well-dressed ladies paraded down glittering avenues while the latest autocarts passed by in a blur of technology and innovation. Paris was the hub of all things Marguerite admired.
“I’ve signed into His Majesty’s service. As of next week, I’ll be an official member of the Royal Corp of Engineers.”
“You what?” She was stunned. It took her a moment to sort out her emotions. How could he have made this type of decision without consulting her? They had shared everything since they discovered each other as bored children on the estate a decade ago.
“I knew you’d be angry with me for not telling you beforehand, but an opportunity just presented itself and I knew it was right—I had to take it.”
“No, I’m not angry at all. Just shocked. You know how my father feels about the military.”
“But you see, that’s just it. I won’t have to worry about your father anymore, I won’t owe him anything. My first assignment is to New France.”
“Are you two coming or not? I’m starved!” Vivienne had doubled back when she realized she was talking to herself.
Marguerite wasn’t sure she could eat or talk at that moment. She wasn’t sure she could even take another step.

 

 

Chapter-by-Chapter-header---About-the-Author

L. Statham

Leigh Statham was raised in the wilds of rural Idaho, but found her heart in New York City. She worked as a waitress, maid, artist, math teacher, nurse, web designer, art director, thirty-foot inflatable pig and mule wrangler before she settled down in the semi-quiet role of wife, mother and writer. She resides in North Carolina with her husband, four children, five chickens and two suspected serial killer cats. If the air is cool and the sun is just coming up over the horizon, you can find her running the streets of her small town, plotting her next novel with the sort of intensity that will one day get her hit by a car.

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Chapter-by-Chapter-header---Giveaway

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