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Introducing Honoré

A reader asks, "Is Xandros in The General's Mistress? He's my favorite in your Numinous World books and I hope he's back."

He's only in one scene in The General's Mistress, and he has no lines, so no, not really. However, he's a major character in the second Elza book, The Emperor's Companion! So here is his first scene from that book, introducing Honoré, who I love just as much as Xandros.

Even on an afternoon when a chill rain fell all up and down the Channel Coast, the salle was warm inside. It took up almost the entire ground floor of what appeared to be a former warehouse, with vast windows down one wall and mirrors down the other. The mirrors must have been a costly investment, I thought, but they doubled the size of the crowd. There were thirty or forty men there, and I eased the door open carefully. A couple of men looked back as I elbowed in. If they wondered why a woman was there, they didn't wonder long. Even dressed in female clothing I wasn't as interesting as the bout.

They stood around the room, a space cleared in the middle for what was clearly an exhibition of some interest. I heard the ring of steel almost immediately, but the spectators were dead quiet. A couple of hussars made room for me so I could see between them, even though my bonnet plume must have blocked the view of those behind.

I drew a breath. Michel was one of the fencers. He had taken coat and waistcoat off, fencing in just shirt and light buff trousers, and his cravat had come loose and fell over one shoulder. His shirt already showed patches of sweat, and his face was deadly intent. I had never seen him at practice with that expression of concentration, his eyes moving even though his foil was stationary.

The other fencer wore dark pants and a tightly buttoned waistcoat, his movements as controlled as his dress. He was Michel's height or a little taller, more lightly built, with short dark hair and olive skin, a nose a little too sharp for beauty. He was motionless as well. Even their points didn't move, waiting like dancers in a mirror, both in guard.

The other fencer moved first. The advance and the riposte were almost too fast for me to see, a disengage around another disengage as both of them tried it at the same time, following each other around like a minuet. Steel rang. Michel attacked with a triple beat, then a disengage and a thrust that I expected to connect. It didn't. The other man was just as fast, and the thrust met a parry to the outside, an abrupt disengage and thrust. Michel stepped back out of the way, and the full extension was just short.

And then they both recovered to guard, watching, the points of their foils both circling clockwise, round and round each other. Michel was grinning. The other man's face was solemn, all keen concentration.

Michel exploded forward, a combination ending in a deadly fleché I should have been reluctant to try, even with practice foils, when no one wore padding. It didn't connect. A backhanded beat and disengage opened a window, and I saw his foil come up, aimed at Michel's breastbone as he ran straight onto it. At the last second Michel swept the point away. It passed almost against his side, and they were shoulder to shoulder inside one another's guard, like lovers in a dance.

But both points were to the outside, and before the blindingly fast second when either could have scored, they both moved. They stopped seven feet apart, both in guard. I could see Michel's chest moving with his breath. His opponent must be half a decade younger, but he didn't seem in better state, and his off hand was dropping.

Corbineau put his hand on my shoulder. "Madame?" he whispered.

I glanced at him. "Hello, Jean-Baptiste. I was looking for you."

"And you've found me," he whispered. "My dear sister, all the way from Paris to bring me some comforts from home. Any chocolate?"

"You are incorrigible," I whispered.

Steel rang. I had missed the pass, but it was inconclusive again. Sweat dripped in Michel's eyes. His opponent's feet were slower. They circled in the round, abandoning the idea of a strip entirely. I wasn't sure whose idea that was, but their steps mirrored each other completely.

"Are you here for the Marshal?" Corbineau whispered.

I leaned in to whisper back. "We're not together anymore. You know that."

Corbineau raised an eyebrow. "Of course not," he said, in a tone that said he didn't believe me for a moment.

"We're through," I whispered. "We agreed to be friends. That's all."

Blades clashed again. This time a high thrust just missed Michel's throat. I wished he wouldn't play without a mask or padding, especially with someone who wasn't his inferior in either reach or speed.

Michel riposted, then went straight into a stop thrust that was short. There was a counter, and the blades kissed, beat and beat and beat. I almost missed the disengage and thrust, a quick tap to his opponent's sword hand.

It was the point.

The young man shook his hand out, grinning ruefully. Michel said something, coming over and slapping him on the shoulder as the entire room started talking.

"He's good," I said. I had never seen Michel's equal as a swordsman, but he wasn't far behind.

Corbineau nodded. He picked up a towel from a nearby bench and waved it. The young man elbowed his way through the crowd toward us, sweat dripping off his black hair onto his face. Corbineau tossed him the towel. His sword hand looked worse than mine, this latest welt on top of white scars that crisscrossed the back of his hand and wrist, over a bulge that spoke of a broken bone long healed. He ducked his head into the towel, scrubbing his dripping hair.

"I'd like to present my dear friend Madame St. Elme," Corbineau said. "Madame, this is Brigadier General Honoré-Charles Reille, a lethal man with a blade of any kind." He winked at me.

Reille had the dignity to look embarrassed. "Madame, the pleasure is mine," he said, a faint blush lending color to his dark skin. "I should bend over your hand, but I believe my state precludes it." He was a little rank, and seemed too aware of it. "With your permission, I will retire and make myself decent."

"It will take more than water and soap to make you decent," Corbineau said, as Reille bowed very properly.

He gave Corbineau a dirty look and went off with the towel, presumably in the direction of the dressing rooms.

I raised an eyebrow myself. "Is he your lover?"

"Honoré?" Corbineau laughed. "Good heavens no! He only likes girls. More the pity; I did try."

"And he didn't run you through with that lethal blade of his?" I asked with mock innocence. "Must be a patient man."

"Alas, no," Corbineau said, putting his hand to his heart. "Honoré saves both blades for other quarry."

I laughed. And looked up unerringly.

Michel's eyes met mine across the room. He had his coat over his arm, the sword belt in his other hand as though he had started putting the saber back on and stopped halfway through.

I looked away. When I looked back, he was looking down, fastening the buckles.

"Friends?" Corbineau said skeptically.

"Yes," I said.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 7th, 2012 07:54 pm (UTC)
GUH. Michel/Elza 4EVA!!!1! (Seriously, they're I'll-be-in-my-bunk level sexy, even across the room from each other.)
Aug. 8th, 2012 10:54 am (UTC)
So you're with Jean-Baptiste then! "Just friends?"
Katy Peppel Holder
Aug. 7th, 2012 09:38 pm (UTC)
You enjoy teasing us don't you? Oi, I can't wait until October for Book 1 and I"m desperately awaiting book 2 (and 3). It's a wonderful scene, thank you for sharing it.
Aug. 8th, 2012 10:55 am (UTC)
You're welcome! I love this scene, and it's such a good introduction for Honore. (And it's so hard for me to sit on things for three or four YEARS before the book comes out!)
Aug. 9th, 2012 03:13 am (UTC)
Oh sure, FRIENDS. You just keep telling yourself that, honey! :D :D :D

And Honoré! Xandros was one of my favourites from Black Ships, too.
Aug. 10th, 2012 10:55 am (UTC)
Friends. Totally just friends. Yep.

I see you believe that just about as much as you should! :D
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )