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The Grand Army's Widow

It was wonderful meeting so many of you guys at Shore Leave 35 this weekend! Thank you for making me so welcome!

sockich told me she loved The Emperor's Agent and that she was looking forward to the rest of the Elza books, though she was already preparing to cry at the last one, The Grand Army's Widow. But it's not as sad as that! It's not a Hand of Isis ending, and that's because they consciously choose for it not to be, because they've learned from their mistakes. She also said she loved the Companions. So here's a little preview of The Grand Army's Widow. This won't go in the book exactly like this, because I'll need to change the POV, but you get the general idea!

ETA: There may be spoilers for The Emperor's Agent in the comments.

The noise was very faint, especially compared to the rumble of the heavy carriage over cobblestones. Anyone who was less alert would not have heard it, but they were a twitchy lot. The Count, a tall, saturnine man who was sitting facing forward in the seat beside the lady, lifted his head sharply, like a hunting dog suddenly catching the scent. His dark hair was streaked with gray at his temples, but there was assuredly nothing wrong with his hearing.

"There is someone on top of the coach," he mouthed silently.

The man in the seat opposite, slender and of an age with him, nodded firmly, his eyes also searching the roof. His evening dress was impeccable, frothy white linen at his chin.

The third man rapped on the wall behind him which separated the carriage from the box. "Hold up if you will." He was also fifty and heavy set, yet receding hairline and expanding girth was belied by a good deal of solid muscle.

The lady, her black veiled hat spilling forth a riot of unlikely platinum blonde curls entirely at odds with her age, discreetly removed a small pinfire revolver from her reticule.

The Count mouthed again. "You two left. We'll go right."

As the carriage rolled to a stop in the rainy and deserted street, the passengers fairly exploded out the doors. The big man leapt to the left, lunging for the carriage's unexpected passenger and dragging him off the top with a startled cry, while the Count drew steel from a sword cane. The lady covered all.

The unexpected passenger tumbled down, blinking up at the falling rain and at the sudden touch of the immaculately dressed man's knife at his throat. "Now, dear one," that gentleman said. "Let's see who we have here. A spy, I should think."

The lady came around the carriage, taut apprehension in her face changing to exasperation. "Oh really!" she exclaimed. "This is too much! M. Dumas, this is not a child's game!"

M. Dumas blinked up at her. "I don't think it is," he said. The rain had plastered his black hair tightly to his head, and his dark suit was soaked through. "If you will kindly ask General Corbineau to remove his blade?"

"I'm not sure we should do that," the big man muttered. "What are you playing at, Alexandre?"

The knife was withdrawn and the young man sat up, futilely attempting to brush his wet clothing back into some semblance of order. "I'm not playing, my good Baron," he said. He looked up the big man, a smile of sheer boyish delight transforming his features. "But what a play it would make, or better yet a novel! Three old companions and a lovely lady, drawn out of retirement by gravest necessity…."

"…I'm not retired!" the Count said indignantly.

"…with the fate of the nation riding on their actions, kingdoms in the balance. Cruel villains! A lost prince!"

"Will you shut up?" General Corbineau demanded.

"Oh it would sell absurdly well!" He got to his feet still grinning. "An innocent to be rescued, an old promise kept…."

The lady cocked her pistol. "It is not a joke. And if you know so much, you know the lengths I will go to."

He sobered. "I do, Madame. And I am not here as a joke. If my father were alive he would lend your mission all his aid and assistance."

"Would he?" the Count's eyebrows rose. "I'm not so certain of that."

"If he saw what had become of his homeland, he would," Dumas said stoutly. "And I have my own eyes and I can see. I was three years old when he died, his health broken by prison and mistreatment by a Bourbon King, and if you think I am a friend of this terrible man on the throne you are mistaken."

"And what do you know of our mission?" the Baron rumbled. "And how?"

He met the Baron's gaze steadily. "I know you mean to free the King of Rome."

The Count put his head to the side, the light of the carriage lamps gleaming off the bared blade of the sword cane. "That's a very serious accusation."

"I don't see how you hope to do it," Dumas said frankly. "He's a prisoner in a very secure castle in the middle of nowhere, and his health is supposed to be fragile. And no one even knows if he would consent to be rescued if he could be, or if he would see it as abduction instead. And no one knows what his principles are. What would he do if he were Emperor?"

Corbineau and the lady exchanged a glance. "It's an awfully long way," Corbineau said. "Honoré and Gervais can't come all the way with us because their absence is too notable. And let's face it. You and I are not so young as we might be."

The Baron looked at Dumas doubtfully. "Can you shoot?"

"Well enough for an affair of honor," Dumas said. "I've never been in battle, if that's what you mean. I was all of twelve for Waterloo. But come on now! You know you could use me! I give you my word of honor that I am no informer. I swear it upon my father's grave."

The Count sighed. "You know that you will never be able to repeat one word of this. You will never be able to tell this story if you are part of it."

"I don't expect so," Dumas said. He glanced at the lady mischievously. "Not directly, anyway. One can say a lot of things in fiction that may bear some resemblance to fact, twisted and stitched in a different way."

The lady's mouth twitched. "You're a rascal," she said without heat, putting the pistol back in her reticule. "I suppose you may have your chance to play the adventurer. But you must learn to follow orders rather than just do as you please!"

"I promise most solemnly that I will follow orders," he said, his eyes sparkling. "I shall defer to you and General Corbineau in all things."

"Jean-Baptiste?" the Count asked.

Corbineau nodded. "Read him in," he said. "It will be useful to have someone who's up to scaling walls."

Dumas grinned. "I knew I was right!"

"About some things," the lady said. "You are quite right about the fate of nations and cruel villains, but I am afraid that you have the wrong prince."

"Can we talk about this in the carriage?" the Baron demanded. "Out of the rain?"

"The wrong prince?" Dumas handed the lady in first as the Count held the door.

"Oh yes." She smiled, the creases at the corners of her eyes crinkling. "You see, once upon a time there was a beautiful young woman who made herself an offering to the Queen of Heaven -- her life, her body, her beauty for her nation's good, given to a conqueror and giving him a son. A boy like you -- bereft of his father while he was still a young child, the widow's son raised in exile. And now he is seventeen and his life hangs in the balance, to live or die as the sacrifice."

Dumas settled in the seat across from her, his eyes shining.

"In him rests the future of Europe. The map is changing as we speak, the paths of the future diverging. Which nations will be free? Who shall prosper and who shall fail? What will we become?"

The Count settled in the seat beside her. His voice was low and resonant, as though all Dumas had seen of him before was no more than an act, his hand brushing over hers on the velvet seat. "And once there was a woman who gave her oath thousands of years ago to protect the son of two peoples, and she failed in her charge. There was a man who gave his life for the city that had adopted him, and he died knowing all was lost."

"We have another chance, you see," the Baron said gruffly. "And by God we won't fail this time!"

"I don't understand," Dumas said, looking from one to the other. "Not entirely."

"We have all the way to Danzig to fill you in," Corbineau said. "Madame and I. Dumas, do you know anything about river barges?"


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 6th, 2013 05:01 pm (UTC)
I want to tell you that I read Emperor's Agent from beginning to end this weekend. In Paris. Which was AWESOME. I keep looking at maps and saying things like "Boulevard Ney! It must be named after Michel!" And "I wonder what the magical resonances of the Arc de Triomphe are, and whether anyone in the lodge was involved in its production." Thank you so much -- the book is delightful.
Aug. 6th, 2013 05:24 pm (UTC)
Also, squee for the story! Finally, the payoff for Hand of Isis, thousands of years later. (Did you see this coming when you set up the Isis ending?)

And I've lost track. Who is the Count?
Aug. 6th, 2013 07:23 pm (UTC)
Oh yes! It's the payoff for Hand of Isis. They're not going to do this again.

Yes, I set it up before I wrote Hand of Isis. I had already written much of the Elza books and had been working on them for over a decade when I began Hand of Isis, so it's very much a prequel in some ways. I had already completed The General's Mistress. I completed The Emperor's Agent between Hand of Isis and Stealing Fire. So I knew where I was going in Hand of Isis.

The Count is Honore Reille.
Aug. 6th, 2013 07:13 pm (UTC)
In Paris! That is indeed awesome! :D

It is indeed named after Michel. And if you take a good look at the Arc, you will see the names of all the Companions at Boulogne except Max Duplessis.
Aug. 6th, 2013 06:18 pm (UTC)
Well Crud! If I had known you would be at Shore Leave, I would have day tripped. I am only up rt 83 near Harrisburg, PA. You could come to Balticon or Farpoint, both are fun events.

I finished Emperor's Agent over the weekend and it was lovely. I want to ask questions, but they would be spoilers, so I will wait. And giggle quietly in the corner, wondering if anyone else caught things.

Aug. 6th, 2013 08:59 pm (UTC)
They invited me to Farpoint. I'll have to see if I can -- I have no idea if the dates will work for me yet. But I'd love to meet you!

Go right ahead and ask questions! Don't worry about spoilers. I'll put a tag on the entry saying there may be spoilers in comments!
Aug. 6th, 2013 11:46 pm (UTC)
Spoiler bits...
It is generally around the third weekend in February. It is a lovely small event Just down the road from where Shore Leave and Balticon are held.

Michael (et al.) was Robert Dudley. I assume that Napoleon would be Elizabeth. It leads to interesting thoughts of who Eliza was; assumeing she incarnated this time... Kat Ashley? Catherine Carey? Cecil (either father or son), Dee? I can think of a couple of others from later in her reign that might fit.

OK Dee is a bit far fetched, and I can think of at least one other that would fit better.

Just your everyday history-nut and Librarian. :-)
Aug. 7th, 2013 10:15 am (UTC)
Re: Spoiler bits...
I'd love to come to Farpoint. My big issue is childcare, so I'll have to see if I can get away.

Yes, Michel was Dudley and Napoleon was Elizabeth. (Genderswap!) Elza was the stableboy Dickon whose story appears in The Ravens of Falkenau as The Messenger's Tale. He's very like Lydias.

What did you think of the regression sections?
Aug. 6th, 2013 09:49 pm (UTC)
It was great to meet you and Melissa at Shore Leave. Thanks for taking the time to sign my whole stack of books. :) The Stargate discussion was also quite fun.
Aug. 7th, 2013 10:02 am (UTC)
It was wonderful to meet you too! Thank you for coming to my panels. It was lots of fun. And I finally got my Amanda Tapping autograph! :)
Margaret Scott Chrisawn
Aug. 6th, 2013 09:52 pm (UTC)
I too finished The Emperor's Agent in record time. I suppose my experience with it is probably unique, given my lifelong "attachment" to Jean, and seeing him in such a completely different way was a real hoot. The white tunic was an eye-opener, as were all those historical and mystical and Masonic bits and pieces from my dear Gascon peasant peasant boy. And Subervie too--what a treat. I feel like you discovered my relatives.
Aug. 7th, 2013 10:12 am (UTC)
Re: YeeHah!
I'm glad you liked it! That pleases me so much!

I've always thought that Lannes lacks education, but that he's a terribly smart man. He'd have to be, wouldn't he, to do the things he does when he basically has no education and has to pick up everything himself on the fly. And not just clever -- more perceptive than many of this crowd. I don't have evidence that he was a Mason, but certainly many of the people he knew were, including Subervie. I also don't find it incredible that he would believe in these things, as it seems to me in keeping with his personality. So he was a delight to write in this role! (Though he thinks better Michel than him as far as Elza is concerned!)

Subervie is one of my absolute favorites. I knew I would be writing him, so I regressed him as it were in Hand of Isis, where he appears as Sigismund, Caesar's German bodyguard. And Lannes appears as Asinius Pollio in Hand of Isis, with Caesar's Celtic auxiliary cavalry. I love Subervie so much! He'll go all the way through to the last book as a major character. (Though of course I sadly lose Jean in the next book.)

What did you think of Elza?
Aug. 7th, 2013 01:46 pm (UTC)
Holy shit sparkly hearts in my eyes. This is...I can't even begin to express how unbearably excited I just became for this book. Elza and Jean-Baptiste! Having adventures! And Honoré and Gervais, too! All of them! Together! I'm sorry I just...this is pretty much everything I could hope for. ♥

"But what a play it would make, or better yet a novel! Three old companions and a lovely lady, drawn out of retirement by gravest necessity…."

Ha! :D

"Oh yes." She smiled, the creases at the corners of her eyes crinkling. "You see, once upon a time there was a beautiful young woman who made herself an offering to the Queen of Heaven -- her life, her body, her beauty for her nation's good, given to a conqueror and giving him a son. A boy like you -- bereft of his father while he was still a young child, the widow's son raised in exile. And now he is seventeen and his life hangs in the balance, to live or die as the sacrifice."

I love that the 'once upon a time' can be taken as 'a few years back' as well as 'a few hundred years back'...at least if I'm right and the woman in question is Marie Walewska who used to be Cleopatra.
Aug. 7th, 2013 03:32 pm (UTC)
I thought you would like it!

Do you think perhaps Alexandre draws some inspiration from his adventure? *g*

Oh yes. Both once upon a times! She definitely means both. Because you are absolutely on the ball. Not the King of Rome, but Alexandre Walewski. And the woman in question is indeed Maria.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )