From Honour and the Sword

From Jacques Gilbert’s interviews with the Abbé Fleuriot:

There were noises from inside the Manor now, screams and yelling and what sounded like the clash of swords, it all came through the windows, which were open in the heat. Another crashed open right in front of us, and in the light of the flambeau I saw someone scrabbling out, a woman in a long white chemise, her movements clumsy and desperate. She was running before she even got properly upright, and as she lifted her head I recognized Mme Panthon who ran the kitchens, scary Mme Panthon who bawled at me when she caught Marie giving me a cake at the kitchen door. Her hair was loose and wild, her mouth was open and no sound coming out, she saw us and stretched out her arms as she ran. A bright yellow flash cracked in the darkness of the window behind her, a wad of something flew away from the side of her head, her face seemed to turn black, but her legs still ran on two more paces before she dropped in a heap, spattering a spray of water from the stones. Her nightdress was all bunched up round her body, I could see her naked legs.

From Anne du Pré’s diary:

I knew something was wrong from the first, when Don Francisco arrived so late and then all those soldiers kept coming in to whisper reports, but I could not guess what the final horror would be. The smell of partridge will always bring it back to me now, the sickly sound of the guitars playing ‘Triste España’, the sentimental tears on the face of Don Francisco, then the dreadful outburst of clapping and cheering at the news they had murdered a fifteen-year-old boy.

Colette managed much better than I, she behaved as if it were nothing to her at all, and continued to giggle with that good-looking enseigne with the boyish smile, the one she now calls Pablo. Even Florian covered his feelings better than I did, although I noticed he drank a great quantity of wine, which he is suffering for now. It was only I who was weak enough to beg to leave the table. Don Miguel was very kind, and told Don Francisco it was understandable I should be upset since I had known him personally, but he only peered at me as if I were a doll and said ‘She is, d’Estrada, she really is, look, she’s crying.’

From Stefan Ravel’s interviews with the Abbé Fleuriot:

It was over a year since I’d stood in the line, but the drill comes back pretty quickly in that situation, and I was legging it to the back before the echo even died. I’d forgotten the rest of it, though, the bitter smell of smoke, the roar in your ears, the instinct that reaches for your powder the second your hand’s off the trigger, I was only just in with the ramrod when the second rank fired. There was still a third, but the sergeant called them to hold, he knew once they discharged we were stuffed, we weren’t up with the reload. The cavalry saw us waiting, thought better of it, and backed off to regroup. Some of the civilians cheered, but not me, Abbé, I’d seen it all before. I knew what they’d do next.

And they did. They’d mustered more men for their next assault, so they halted just out of range, then sent up the first group with levelled pistols. It was only the bloody caracole, wasn’t it, and us a sitting target with three thin ranks to beat it.

From Colin Lefebvre’s interviews with the Abbé Fleuriot:

Everyone shut up fast. Shouting and swearing outside, all in that Spanish, couldn’t understand a word. The young one, Little Pierre, he upped and looked through the window, said there’s soldiers outside and a wheel come off their cart. Didn’t seem much to me, seeing I saw Spaniards every day, but I looked over at Jacques, saw he’d turned dead white, scared half out his wits. His dad was quicker, on his feet right off, ordering Madame into the back room. ‘Now, Nell,’ he was saying, ‘Now.’ I understood that all right, Jacques’ mum was something, wasn’t a man in the Saillie didn’t feel it. Wasn’t much doubt what the Spaniards would do to her, and she knew it, out and in the back room with the little girl in a second.

But Jacques was just as panicky. ‘You too, André,’ he was saying. ‘Go on, quick.’

Didn’t see the need myself, Seigneur looked scruffy as the rest of us, but Jacques pulling at his arm, trying to make him hide. Seigneur shook him off, stayed right where he was. He said ‘I don’t run from Spaniards.’


From In the name of the king

From Jacques Gilbert’s interviews with the Abbé Fleuriot

I shouted a warning as his blade shot forward, but my voice was lost in the clash as André’s flew up to meet it. The blond dropped quickly to reprise in the throat, but André twisted to let the thrust pass him, scything his own blade backwards to strike with the edge. The blond stepped back with a hiss of breath and I saw a fine scarlet line across his neck. His eyes looked hot with rage. Then he was in again, hard and fast at the face, André whirling the blade to drive him back. The blond was older and stronger, the boy had to avoid close body and keep distance, but he couldn’t step back beyond the crates, if he opened the gap they’d cut him down from all sides. And he was good, that blond, really good. He was drunk, of course, he hadn’t got André’s accuracy, but he was fast as well as strong, and he wasn’t trying just to get a hit like the boy had done, he was looking to kill. I looked desperately down the passageway. On one side the wall was just twelve feet high with no roof, but it was still too smooth to climb. After all those years of fighting Spaniards we were going to be killed in a stinking alley by a pack of noblemen looking for an evening’s entertainment, we were going to be murdered by the boy’s own kind.

new extract

Other voices were mixing in with it too, rough with desperation. Roquelaure was trying to rally his cavalry, but then he was down and surrounded by the enemy. Fabert’s country voice was yelling his men to hold, Sourdis was screaming at our retreating cavalry, de Bauffremont was shouting ‘Stand, Piémont, stand!’ Uxelles, Andelot, Roussillon, all of them crying the same thing ‘Hold the line there, hold them, hold them, hold …’ I was dancing Guinevere back and whirling round with the sword, man down and on to the next, the next, always the next, and still the voices crying ever more urgently ‘Hold them, hold them,’ till there wasn’t even a ‘them’ any more, the world was shrinking to nothing but that single word, ranks of men breaking and running and nothing in my ears but that endless hopeless cry to ‘Hold!’

From Stefan Ravel’s interviews with the Abbé Fleuriot

I grabbed him. I snatched his collar in both fists and yanked him up to face me. ‘I’ve done it, haven’t I? What are you saying, I’m less of a man for it?’

‘No,’ he said, wrenching clear. ‘No!’ He tugged at his twisted collar and glared at me. ‘You know I didn’t mean … You know I understand.’

I was sick of it and sick of him. ‘No, you don’t, it’s the Saillie all over again. You’ll muck in the dirt with the likes of me and Grimauld, but at heart you think you’re better, don’t you? You despise the lot of us.’

A gust of wind set the tents flapping with a crack of canvas, but André didn’t move. His face was very white in the dark.

I said ‘Well, you’re wrong. We understand your finer feelings, we just can’t afford them. And right now neither can you.’

From Anne du Pré’s diary

A man yelled in pain, and I thought, Good, that’s one down, but others were calling ‘Behind, behind,’ ‘Get his arm,’ then ‘Now!’ and suddenly a short cry. I heard laughter then shouting and knew I must get to him, but my dress caught on the stone hand, and I had to rip it to wrench free. The lion statue jarred my shins, but I scrambled past and stumbled to the door.

I ran blindly over the gravel on to the grass and I think I was crying ‘Stop!’ Even the air was frightening as if filled with unseen swords, and I turned round and round, my dress tangling in my legs, and my head confused with pain and fear. Something grasped my ankle, I snatched it away in terror, and saw a man lying writhing on the ground. I stared in panic, but he was not André. The two of us were quite alone.

From Bernadette Fournier’s interviews with the Abbé Fleuriot

My attic bedroom faced the courtyard so the sounds from the road were muffled, but as I lay with my ears open I heard even the late carriages rattle by in the Rue de Braque, splashing up water from the puddles as they passed. When Louis shut the courtyard gate the crash of the bolts seemed loud as a gunshot. I listened for the familiar bang of the side door as he came in to bed, then the squeak of hinges as the kitchen door closed. After that should be silence, for so it always was, but this night there were still faint voices from the public room and I knew Madame and Monsieur were waiting up.

I wondered what for.

I do not know how much longer it was before I heard horses, but if I had dozed I woke in an instant. I climbed quietly from the bed, found my cloak in the dark and fastened it round my shoulders. Below me I heard the front door open and close, and again the murmur of voices. Then the stairs began to creak. I crept to the trap, and watched its edges begin to shimmer with faint light as someone carried a candle from below.

I pressed my head to the crack and heard Monsieur whisper ‘The ladder’s gone.’

From Albert Grimauld’s interviews with the Abbé Fleuriot

The maid looked at me with lower lip flopping and said ‘The mistress is sick of a brain fever, the master says she’s not to be disturbed.’

‘Ah, but my letter will cure all that,’ says I, oozing charm like a monk with a collecting box. ‘You fetch her for me, my poppet, you’ll see.’

‘I’ll get her companion,’ says she, not being up to anything harder, nor likely to meet it with a face like that. ‘Jeanette will know.’

Ah, now Jeanette was more like it, wide smile, plump where you like it, altogether nice-looking piece. There was no messing with her either. She says ‘Is it M. de Roland?’ I says ‘Yes,’ and she says ‘Right,’ then she’s off again and back in a moment with a poor wilting creature it takes me a second to identify as the woman I last saw hacking at a hedge like a Lyons executioner. She rips open the letter and reads it, and oh my word, the difference. When she looks at me again, she’s a lovely thing, ripe and blushing, I wouldn’t have said no to it myself, always providing there weren’t no axe in the vicinity.

‘Is there an answer?’ says I.

‘Yes,’ says she. ‘That’s the answer. Yes.’

It was all over her, that ‘yes’, like blossom on a tree. I found myself thinking of it all the walk back, and for a little time the world looked shiny and bright-coloured to me too, just the way the laddie saw it and it never ever was.

The Books Honour and the Sword In the name of the king