Dark Triumph

Тема

JAMETTE DE LUR, his daughter

TEPHANIE, lady in waiting to Lady Sybella

MADAME FRANCOISE DINAN, the duchess’s former governess

JEAN RIEUX, marshal of Brittany and the duchess’s former tutor

TILDE, a maid

ODETTE, her younger sister

BARON JULLIERS, a Breton noble

BARON VIENNE, a Breton noble

BARON IVES MATHURIN, a Breton noble

BENEBIC DE WAROCH, the Beast of Waroch and a knight of the realm

YANNIC, the jailor

GUION, a Breton farmer

BETTE, his wife

JACQUES, their son

ANTON, their son

PHILLIPE MONTAUBAN, chancellor of Brittany

BISHOP OF RENNES

CHARLES VIII, king of France

ANNE DE BEAUJEU, regent of France

MAXIMILIAN OF AUSTRIA, the Holy Roman emperor, one of Anne’s suitors

SIR DE BROSSE, man-at-arms

SIR LORRIL, man-at-arms

SIR LANNION, man-at-arms

SIR GAULTIER, man-at-arms

ABBESS OF ST. MER

SAMSON, a blacksmith’s son

CLAUDE, a woodcutter’s son

N

ANTES

, B

RITTANY

, 1489

I DID NOT ARRIVE AT the convent of Saint Mortain some green stripling. By the time I was sent there, my death count numbered three, and I had had two lovers besides. Even so, there were some things they were able to teach me: Sister Serafina, the art of poison; Sister Thomine, how to wield a blade; and Sister Arnette, where best to strike with it, laying out all the vulnerable points on a man’s body like an astronomer charting the stars.

If only they had taught me how to watch innocents die as well as they taught me how to kill, I would be far better prepared for this nightmare into which I’ve been thrust.

I pause at the foot of the winding steps to see if I am being watched. The scullery woman scrubbing the marble hall, the sleepy page dozing against the doorway—either one of them could be a spy. Even if neither has been assigned to watch me, someone is always willing to tattle in the hopes of earning a few crumbs of favor.

Caution prevails and I decide to use the south stairs, then double back through the lower hall to approach the north tower from that side. I am very careful to step precisely where the maid has just washed, and I hear her mutter a curse under her breath. Good. Now I can be certain she has seen me and will not forget if she is questioned.

In the lower hall, there are few servants about. Those who have not been driven out are busy with their duties or have gone to ground like wise, clever rats.

When at last I reach the north wing of the palace, it is empty. Quickening my pace, I hurry toward the north tower, but I am so busy looking behind me that I nearly stumble over a small figure sitting at the base of the stairs.

I bite back an oath of annoyance and glare down to see it is a child. A young girl. “What are you doing here?” I snap. My nerves are already tightly strung, and this new worry does them little good. “Where is your mother?”

The girl looks up at me with eyes like damp violets, and true fear clutches at my gut. Has no one thought to warn her how dangerous it is for a pretty child to wander these halls alone? I want to reach down and shake her—shake her mother—and shout at her that she is not safe, not on these steps, not in this castle. I force myself to take a deep breath instead.

“Mama is dead.” The child’s voice is high and quivery.

I glance to the stairs, where my first duty lies, but I cannot leave this child here. “What is your name?”

“Odette,” she says, uncertain whether to be frightened of me or not.

“Well, Odette, this is no place to play. Have you no one to look after you?”

“My sister. But when she is working, I am to hide like a little mouse.”

At least her sister is no fool. “But this is not a good place to hide, is it? Look how easily I found you!”

For the first time, the girl gives me a shy smile, and in that moment, she reminds me so much of my youngest sister, Louise, that I cannot breathe. Thinking quickly, I take her hand and lead her back to the main hallway.

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