Here’s the third of our #HistoricalHeroes finalists, Faye Delacour’s ‘Like a Musketeer’.
Québec, New France, 1673
Rosaire Rainville had a problem. Three of them, to be precise. First, it was a particularly hot day in Quebec city, and the market was so thick with people that Rosaire found himself frequently jostled by the more careless or meanspirited members of the populace. Second, his nose was itchy. Third, and perhaps most importantly, he was chained by the neck to a giant wooden post at the head of the square, his hands bound tightly in front of him by a rope which also circled around his waist.
This made it rather difficult to solve the second problem, his itchy nose.
Rosaire strained against his bonds until his veins popped from the thick muscles of his biceps. The rope groaned and creaked under the force, but he could bring his hands no higher than his chest. He could not lower his head without choking on his iron collar. This was a battle he could not win.
Scratch with your mind. He tried to imagine his fingernails running over the offending patch of skin and driving out the itch. The itch is gone, he willed. Completely gone.
The itch was still there.
The town wigmaker walked by and kicked Rosaire hard in the shins as he passed.
“Agh! I know you, Monsieur Brisebois,” he called after the man’s receding figure. “You won’t be so brave when I’m free!”
“Thief!” Brisebois tossed over his shoulder, “Dirty scoundrel!”
“It wasn’t thieving this time, it was fighting.” Rosaire could not turn his head far enough to keep Monsieur Brisebois in sight as the man marched on, and had no way to know if his words were heeded. Just once, he’d stolen a chicken from his neighbour’s yard, and even then it was only because he had been hungry, and the man owed him more at dice than the scrawny bird was worth. Still, all anyone remembered was that he’d been thieving.
Fools, the lot of them. Rosaire turned his attention back to the market, and was surprised to see a boy of perhaps eight or nine years had crept up before him. The child wore a doublet of blue silk and a scowl on his pudgy, little face. He had that look of good health that comes with riches–a certain rosy hue to his cheeks and a quickness to his movements that said he had never known hunger.
“Hey kid,” Rosaire began. He had been planning to continue, do you think you can reach my nose? but then he noticed the rock in the boy’s fist and thought better of it. He assumed his fiercest glare. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
The two stared at each other for a long moment, the child’s blue eyes never flinching from Rosaire’s hazel ones. “And why not?”
“Because they chained me up here for killing a kid,” Rosaire growled. “A little nasty one who liked to throw rocks. So I up and stabbed him.”
“That’s a lie,” the boy said, gripping his weapon a bit tighter. “You’re chained here for assault. It says so right there.”
Rosaire muttered a curse. His crimes were printed on the sign that was strung around his neck for all the world to see, but it might as well have been written in Greek for how many people could read it. Just his luck he would run across the only literate eight year old in the colony.
Thinking fast, he tried, “You’re so smart, what’s assault, then?”
“Well, I fought five men, and one brat with a rock, and I won. So what do you think I’m going to do to you when they unchain me again?”
This seemed to have the desired effect. The boy shifted from foot to foot, still suspicious, but finally dropped the stone to the ground.
“André,” a clear, feminine voice called out. “André, what are you doing over here? You should not be talking to this… this criminal!” A lady in an elaborate gown rushed over to them and laid a proprietary hand on the boy’s shoulder. She was too young to be his mother, and far too well-dressed to be a nursemaid. Rosaire guessed it was a sister. Like the child she had hair the colour of burnished bronze and lively blue eyes. She was also quite comely.
Rosaire let his eyes roam over her heart-shaped face, the swell of her breasts pressed up by her corset, and her narrow waist. She was a real lady, this one. Not like the serving maids and slatterns who kept his company. She would be all silk beneath his touch.
Not that he would ever have the chance to touch someone like her, even if his hands weren’t bound. But a man could dream. “Stay and chat awhile, ” he invited, hoping for some diversion to pass the time. “I won’t bite. ”
At the sound of his voice, the lady started and looked in his direction for the first time. She gasped and brought a bejewelled hand to her lips. Something in her expression gave Rosaire pause. It was familiar, the way a few notes from an old song are familiar, but he could not place it. Then she parted her lips and said, “Rosie?”
Marie-Angélique de Buade–Lélie to her friends–started at the sight before her. If it were not for that familiar, crooked smile and the rich, layered timber of his voice, she would never have recognized the boy she had once known. Rosaire had been scrawny when she’d last seen him. Now his muscles bulged off his solid frame, and he stood at least six inches taller than her, though she was not especially petite. It was his face that had changed the most; his jaw had grown more defined and the hollows under his cheekbones had vanished.
“Don’t call me that.”
“I cannot believe it’s you!” Lélie could not decide whether to kiss him or slap him. She decided on the first option, and stood on her tiptoes to peck him on the cheek, leaning past the heavy chain around his neck. She wrinkled her nose at the scent that invaded her nostrils. He smelled like stale whiskey. It reminded her that this was not the child she’d played with on her father’s estate back in France. Nor was it the handsome youth who had shot her the most inappropriate glances when they’d crossed paths in the village.
It wasn’t just that Rosie was bigger, or older. There was something fierce about him now. It was the unruly shock of brown hair that twisted in front of his brow, or perhaps the growth of a rough beard that covered his face. He looked like… well, a criminal.
Which begged her next question: ”Why on earth are you chained to a post?”
“He killed a kid,” André said solemnly.
“I did no such- you did not even believe that a minute ago!” Rosie sputtered.
“It’s what he told me.”
“You know why I said that,” Rosie returned. “But I won’t relay the details of what you were planning, because I have a code of honor. No snitching.”
Andre hung his head and kicked at the ground. I probably don’t want to know, Lélie decided. “Stop that. You’ll scuff your new boots.” Turning back to Rosie and the sign around his neck, she continued, “Now, what did you really do?”
He shifted under his bonds as she leaned in, but of course, he could do nothing to stop her. What a strange situation she found herself in, to be this close to a man practically twice her size, who was powerless to lift a finger. She felt a bit like a lion tamer.
“Don’t read that. It’s grossly exaggerated.”
“Five men? What would possess you to start such a hopeless fight? More importantly, how is it that you are still in possession of all your teeth?” She made a quick study to confirm the truth of this assumption, but they all seemed to be in order. White and striking in his tanned face, though not quite even. He was terribly handsome, even in this state.
“They were lousy fighters.”
Lélie grinned. That was Rosie. Irreverent, devil-may-care attitude, and far more charming than he had a right to be. Now she remembered why she’d had such a fondness for him when they were young. He had always been able to make her laugh. And she had loved that delicious manner he had of following her with his eyes as she’d grown older. He could speak volumes in the arch of a single brow.
The way he was doing right now.
Lélie had to drop her gaze, for her face was growing hot and she was sure her thoughts must be written across her face. She had no business looking at Rosie this way. He’d been vastly beneath her station back in France, when he was on the right side of the law. Here, he seemed to have fallen into darker ways.
Maman was right about him. Lélie had not understood her mother’s concern over the harmless flirtation. After all, no one had objected when she and Rosie had played together as children, in their little village that offered few options for companionship her own age. But as they’d grown older, maman had considered the friendship inappropriate, and had insisted on sending Lélie to Paris to complete her education and introduction to society. Confronted with the image of what might have been, had she stayed in Clion long enough to see Rosie grow into the specimen of raw masculinity that stood before her now, Lélie had to admit that her mother had been most prudent.
There was a blemish on her name already, no matter how she liked to forget it. It left her vulnerable. Any connection with Rosie would lower her status by association. At fourteen, she had not understood that. At twenty-two, she was far wiser.
“How did you come to be in the colonies?”
“Joined up with the army not long after you left Clion.” His chain made a clinking sound that implied a shrug. “I travelled around a bit after that. My regiment was sent over here a few years back. And you?”
Lélie stared at Rosie. She had assumed that he knew her story, but he acted as though he were truly surprised to find her here. “Don’t you follow the events of the town?” Her father’s arrival in Québec was probably the most noteworthy thing that had happened in the colony all year. A man could not be ignorant of such happenings unless he lived in a cave.
“Of course,” Rosie replied. Then, “that is, when I have the time. But I am not sure what that has to do with your being here.”
Before she could explain herself, a large, unwashed fellow with a set of keys in his fist made his appearance with a loud jangle. “Right then, Larose. Time’s up.”
“Larose?” Lélie asked.
“It’s my military nickname.”
The executioner stared at Lélie, a veil of dull confusion falling across his features. “Uh… beg pardon, my lady,” he stammered. She stepped back to allow him better access to the chains that linked Rosie to the post.
We must be quite a sight, together. She should have left ages ago. Talking with him like this, stirring up old memories, could only serve to make her regret that her station in life posed a barrier between them.
The chains were unlocked with a heavy clatter and Rosie’s wrists untied. He gave a long sigh, scratched his nose, and lifted the sign from around his neck with an air of mocking solemnity. “Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on my crimes. I’ve really learned a lot this time.”
“You’re not free yet. The captain of the guard wants to see you.”
Rosaire stared at the executioner who had the charge of his sentence. He must have misheard that. “What, you mean the captain of my company?” He thought that his superior had more or less abandoned hope of reforming him by now, but a stern lecture was not out of the question.
The executioner passed Rosaire the effects which had been taken from him upon his arrest: his nearly empty coin-purse and his sword. He strapped the scabbard and weapon back on his hip. He’d felt naked without it.
“No, I mean the captain of the guard. The Governor’s personal forces.”
Rosaire had never attracted the attention of anyone so high up the military command. This cannot be good. “Come now, Jacques, you know how this works. You lot arrest me for something, then I’m sentenced, then I spend a few hours getting sunburned. I’ve paid what’s due. No cause for a second punishment.”
“What can I say? You want me to tell him ‘No, your lordship, Rosaire Rainville has more important things to do than see you today’? You’ve been summoned and I’m bringing you up there.”
“No need for an escort. I can find my own way.” Rosaire cast a glance at Lélie, who stood watching the whole exchange with her brows knit in a tiny furrow. It was bad enough that she’d seen him in the most humiliating position he could have imagined. He had no wish to part ways under the guard of the town’s executioner.
What a mess this was. Why the hell had Lélie de Buade shown up in the marketplace today, of all days? She should have been halfway around the world from him. And if they were to be reunited, God forbid she should stumble upon him buying a loaf of bread or visiting a neighbour. No, he had to be chained to a post after spending four nights in the royal prison, without access to soap or a razor, while she turned up looking more lovely than ever.
He’d thought he would never see her again.
It would probably have been better if he’d been right.
“I think there is a need.” The executioner sniffed, and the sound carried a wet, phlegmy note. “Wish I could take your word, Larose, but you remember the time you ran off with that chicken and tried to say it was a gambling debt you were owed-”
“It was a gambling-”
“-Or the time you cheated poor Monsieur Giraux at dice and he got so angry he doused you with-”
“All right, all right,” Rosaire snapped. “Does the deputy want to see me today or did he ask you to go over every misunderstanding we’ve ever had? If we’re going, let’s go.”
He hardly wanted to look at Lélie after the executioner’s little speech, but he had to at least bid her farewell. Before he could open his mouth, she was saying, “I’m coming with you.”
“What?” This might be a dream. It hardly seemed possible that everything could go so wrong. “Absolutely not. Why would you even think of such a thing?”
She cast an uneasy glance to the executioner. “You might need my help.”
“Our father is very important.” This last observation came from André, whose interest in the whole affair seemed to have waned for a bit once Rosaire was no longer chained up like a carnival attraction.
To say that Louis de Buade, Count of Frontenac and Palluau, was very important, was a significant understatement. As far as any of the villagers in their native Clion were concerned, he might have been their king. He lived in a castle–a great hulking thing upon Île Savary that dwarfed every other structure in the region. He had the same Christian name as the real king. He spent most of his time at court. And he had a decidedly regal air, from his extravagant clothes and powdered wig to his habit of bringing a large retinue of bodyguards and servants with him wherever he went.
The man’s daughter would be of particular help to Rosaire half a world away, however. Their family name must be known as a most old an honourable one wherever they went, but the count was not master of Quebec as he had been master of his ancestral home.
“Lélie-” He corrected himself quickly, conscious of the executioner’s stare. “Mademoiselle de Buade. I appreciate the offer, but if I’m in any trouble, I’ll handle it myself. I’ve dealt with worse.”
His companion gave a haughty tilt of her head that reminded him of her father. “André and I are going to walk home now. It appears we may take the same path. I trust you will not presume to tell us that you are the only soul in the colony with a right to walk the streets.”
Rosaire sighed. To his list of Count Frontenac’s royal pretensions he might have added: He has a daughter who acts like a princess.
The four of them began the ascent to the upper town together, the sun beating down on their backs.
The captain of the guard had his offices in the governor general’s palace grounds, a massive fort perched on the steep cliffs which overlooked the lower town and the port to the Saint-Laurent river. Rosaire did not form part of the small garrison of soldiers that patrolled its walls, but he had lived in Québec long enough now to know these buildings.
A pair of tall bastions rose up on the side of the fort that bordered the town and river. Between them, a battillery straddled the defensive walls, its outer face cut with embrasures from which soldiers might shoot down upon the enemy. The governor’s personal residence abbuted this structure. It was a grand, two-storey building some hundred feet long, with a cluster of masons and a pile of bricks at one end that implied an expansion was in the works. Finally, some distance beyond the residence and battillery, the path sloped up the glittering hillside of Cap aux diamants to the redout which commanded the upper town and fort.
Rosaire had never been inside most of these buildings, and the executioner looked equally daunted as they approached. Lélie, on the other hand, strode forward with the assurance of someone who spent far more time in a military compound than he would have expected from a lady.
“You may leave us now. I will ensure Monsieur Rainville reaches his destination. André, you go on home. You’ll be late for your tutor.”
Lélie spoke with such authority that both parties moved to obey her—the executioner after a moment’s hesitation, her brother with considerably more protest. As she and Rosaire continued on through the fort grounds alone, several of the guards nodded to her.
“Lélie,” Rosaire murmured. “What did you say that your family was doing in Quebec, exactly?”
“Are you asking me in earnest or is this one of your jests? How can you not know this?”
“It’s not a jest. And you had better not be about to tell me that your father is the captain of the guard.”
“Of course not.” Her tone made it amply clear that the very suggestion was insulting to her.
Thank God. He’d been imagining himself standing before the count while the man’s daughter pleaded for mercy on his behalf. He would rather have taken a whipping, if that was to be his fate.
“My father is the governor.”
Rosaire missed a step.
“He is not. Courcelles is the governor.” He knew that. The man had led them on campaign against the Iroquois several years ago, in an ill-fated winter expedition that saw more men lost to the cold than to their enemy. Rosaire would not forget that name.
“Sieur Remy de Courcelles left Quebec over a year ago. I thought you said you follow the happenings of the colony.”
“I lied.” It seemed that officials in the colony were constantly rotating. If it wasn’t a new noble coming over from France, it was an old one going back. He might have paid more attention if he’d had any notion that a single one of them would know his name.
Then again, the Count of Frontenac probably didn’t know Rosaire’s name, only that he was a ruffian who’d once threatened his daughter’s place in society by daring to speak to her.
That memory still stung. It’s no less than the truth. You are a ruffian, and Lélie shouldn’t even be talking to you. He would be the one sent away if they attracted any attention this time. And not to attend balls in Paris, either.
They had arrived at a wooden door down the end of a winding hallway. Lélie stopped before it and inclined her head to indicate this was his destination. “Don’t come in with me,” he said. Seeing that she was about to protest, he added, “please.”
Lélie sighed. “You’ll mention my name if you should find yourself in any serious trouble?”
Rosaire placed a hand over his heart. “If they plan to execute me, I’ll shout until you come running.” Any less serious threat he would handle himself. He had some pride.
“Very well.” Her gaze lingered on him, and Rosaire knew that she wanted to say more. She finally settled on, “it was good to see you again, Rosie.”
He drank in the sight of her one last time, fairly certain this really would be their final parting. There was a note of resignation in Lélie’s tone that said she knew it, too. Sensible girl. If Rosaire had made her the object of his childish worship back in Clion, it was only because he had been too damn foolish to see that he paid her no compliment by it. Well-born ladies didn’t dream of inciting passion in country peasants.
Still, he was scoundrel enough to take advantage the excuse for one last favour. He put on the crooked smile that worked such wonders with common barmaids and said, “Will you permit me a kiss to take my leave?”
She sucked in her breath and a hint of colour rose in her cheeks. He dropped his gaze a fraction. The rosy pink hue dusted the top of her breasts, too. Lovely. That alone was worth it.
Without a word, Lélie raised her hand to him. Her grinned at his triumph, and lowered his lips to accept the offer. She was pure silk, and he let his mouth linger shamelessly there, tasting the heat of her skin. This was what it was like to kiss a real lady. Someone whose hands weren’t burnt rough from washing and mending.
He toyed with the idea of placing a second kiss on her lips while they were still alone in the corridor, but Lélie withdrew her hand and stepped away before he had the chance to carry the thought any further. Just as well. Safer for both of them.
“Goodbye, Lélie.” He gave a short bow, as he’d seen better men do.
“Good luck.” She walked away and he watched her go. She had the charity to cast a glance over her shoulder before the hall turned to take her out of sight.
There was nothing to do then but knock on the door.
The man inside was a thin and wiry fellow with overly large moustaches yellowed by tobacco. When he opened his mouth to speak, Rosaire saw that his teeth were stained to match.
“You must be the one they call Larose.”
“Yes.” Rosaire had learned how to read a situation quickly. As a soldier, there were times when his life had depended on it. But he had trouble reading the captain. The man was not looking at him with the grim determination that one would expect to accompany a punishment. If anything, the slight lift to his eyebrows and tilt of his head spoke of a mild curiousity. Though why such a man would take any interest in him was beyond Rosaire’s comprehension.
“That’s ‘yes, sir’,” the captain said. “I am Daniel Beaumont du Repaire, the captain of the count’s guard and his aide-de-camp. I’ve heard a good deal about you.”
Probably nothing complimentary.
Beaumont rose from his desk and stepped to the credenza to pour himself a drink, which he sipped from time to time as he spoke. He did not offer any refreshment to Rosaire. “I understand you assaulted five men in a cabaret. Do you wish to tell me your side of the story?”
The captain cocked an eyebrow. “Nothing to say for yourself? You realize that the matter is quite serious. I am told one of the men broke his leg so badly there is some question as to whether he will ever be able to work again.”
“He probably shouldn’t have broken a pitcher over my head while I was busy with his friend, then.”
The captain took another sip of his whiskey. “Where did you train, Larose?”
“Train?” He repeated stupidly. The shift in questioning had thrown him off. “I enlisted back in France. Fought the turks for a while and then I was sent here.”
“Don’t expect me to believe you learned to fight like that in the army. Your captain tells me you rarely bother to attend your drills.” He ran a hand through his greying hair. “I take it you have no formal schooling? Did you ever have a tutor?”
Rosaire laughed. “Me? No. Father was a blacksmith but with six older brothers there was no need for me to learn the trade.” The only good thing he could say about his family was that they’d beaten the weakness out of him. He’d learned how to fight and to fend for himself from an early age. It had served him well.
Beaumont frowned at him for a long moment. Rosaire had spent enough time gambling to recognize that look. It was the same one he gave to his opponents when he was trying to decide if they were bluffing.
What the hell could he hope to win from me?
“Do you know who those men were that you fought?”
Rosaire shrugged. “I suppose the sons of someone important, since we’re still talking about them.”
“They were carabiniers.” It was evident from the emphasis he placed on the word that Beaumont expected it to mean something, but Rosaire could only stare. The captain frowned at his ignorance. “You’ve heard of the grey musketeers, I trust?”
“The king’s guard.”
“Carabiniers are the equivalent for the governor. An elite fighting squad to protect the king’s representative in New France.”
“Oh.” Rosaire scratched his head. “…they didn’t seem all that elite to me, begging your pardon.”
“Yes, well, that’s the whole problem, isn’t it?” Beaumont paced up and down the room, his hands stroking the spot on his chin where a beard would be, if he’d had one. “In all honesty, I could use a few fighting men. Real ones, who’ve seen some battle. Not these second sons who think the carabiniers are a prestigious way to whittle away their qualifying service before buying a commission.”
Rosaire didn’t like the way Beaumont was looking at him. He kept his mouth shut and waited.
Another pause. Another sip of whiskey. “So? What do you think?”
“Am I going to regret promoting you to our number?”
Rosaire was startled enough to reply honestly. “Probably.”
Captain Beaumont cast back his head and laughed. “I can see you will prove amusing, if nothing else.”
This was absurd. He was a rough peasant with nothing to recommend him but a certain talent for hacking at things with a blade. “I don’t know the first thing about… your sort of work. I wouldn’t know how to address an official or-“
“You can follow the governor around looking fierce, I trust. You can keep your mouth shut and follow orders. Or if not, you’ll learn. And you’ll put an end to your fighting and thieving, unless it’s in the service of the count. Your antics might have served in your previous company, but not here.”
“You haven’t asked about the pay yet. It’s four hundred a year, and you’ll have board.”
Rosaire snapped his mouth shut so quickly that he bit his tongue. Four hundred livres was more than double his wages as a common soldier, and that was counting what he earned as a day labourer in the summer to supplement his pay.
Captain Beaumont looked smug. “That’s what I thought. Now go ask for Lieutenant Jacques Bizard and tell him he’s to find you a suitable cassock and show you around.”
“Yes, sir.” This was the moment where Rosaire was probably supposed to shower the captain with his gratitude, but the words did not come to his lips. Something felt false about the whole offer.
True, there weren’t many fighting men left in the colony now that the majority of Rosaire’s regiment had been recalled to France. But of the sixty-odd men who remained, at least ten had some noble blood in their veins. If Beaumont wanted an addition to his force, any of them would have been a more likely choice. Perhaps Rosaire was the best fighter in his company, but the captain couldn’t know that. He hadn’t even seen him spar.
Something wasn’t right here.
But for four hundred livres, he could live with it. “Thank you, captain,” he managed, and made his escape before the offer could be withdrawn.
“And shave that beard,” Beaumont called after him. “You look like a damned fur trader.”
You can follow Faye Delacour on Twitter @FayeDelacour
When you’ve read all 3 chapters, pick your favourite, and send an email by midnight this Thursday, 17th July to Historical.Heroes@hqnuk.co.uk with your favourite in the subject header. The public’s choice will then be declared Tournament Champion on Twitter and Facebook on Friday, 18th July!