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Mary Gray


1. Prequel: Her Dark Fantasy

Also by Mary Gray

Copyright © 2017 by Mary Gray


This 2800-word short story is a prequel and is meant to be read in fifteen minutes or less. It takes place four years before OUR SWEET GUILLOTINE and sets the stage for why Tempeste and the executioner behave as they do. The prequel takes place in pre-revolutionary France. OUR SWEET GUILLOTINE takes place during the revolution itself.

For my cover artist who works like a boss: Cammie.

The blood-orange moon warns this is a terrible idea.

But I must follow them before he lays a finger on Maman, for he cannot truly mean to extract from her a confession today.

“Come.” The young executioner extends a gentle hand to help Maman from the tumbrel to a patch of scraggly weeds.

I crouch behind a wheel in my muslin dress, unable to avoid the heady smell of lumber and horse feces. I hid under a woolen blanket in the back, then slipped down to the ground when we arrived. Should I announce myself—convince him to free Maman—or remain back here, silent as a river leech?

Maman would fret to see me on the executioner’s land, though. The last thing she would want is for me to see her this way.

The executioner shared a bag of roasted nuts with her on the drive, and he commented on how Paris has been unnaturally warm as of late. Making small-talk isn’t typical behavior for an executioner, so Maman must be close to convincing him that she should be released.

When she climbs down from the tumbrel, her muslin skirt snags on a nail jutting from the tumbrel’s side, and the executioner tenderly frees the red fabric.

Maman’s voice hitches in gratitude. “Merci.”

Leading her towards the shed, his shoulders hunch and I believe I know what he is thinking. He doesn’t want to do this. He knows he must appeal to the Assembly. He’ll prove to them that Maman would never attempt to assassinate a member of the bourgeois. It is all a horrible mistake.

Maman holds herself with her usual regality, though for years, she’s worked as prostitute on Paris’ streets. Papa’s begged her to come home, but she refuses to return to us or explain why she stays away.

I try to catch a glimpse of her rouged lips and high cheekbones in the dappled moonlight, but she’s too busy surveying the executioner’s shuttered home, horses in the fields, and, in the far distance, the fringed evergreen trees.

She murmurs to herself, “So serene.”

She’s giving up. There’s no fight in her. She’s treating this as her final moment before he breaks apart her feet, but he needn’t do that. She isn’t guilty.

Our Sunday walks have been much too sparse. We still haven’t visited the baronet’s pond with the exotic koi. Though we live apart, Maman never fails to explain how the rich and poor seem different but are very much alike. [_Every man is guilty of all the good he didn’t do. _]She quotes Voltaire when, on the walk home, we trail past soot marred faces and children who are so hungry they cry.

As the young executioner pauses at the shed’s entry, the wind teases his chestnut hair, and he really is quite handsome with that cravat and greatcoat of fine buttons and embroidery.

If I were to estimate, he’s but a few years older than me. And with that hesitancy of step, I still believe he doesn’t want to do this. Maman is a kind woman, he sees.

But he must release her. Now. Why is he stalling?

All at once, he turns to extend a tender hand toward Maman. “Je suis désolé pour tous vos soucis.” I am sorry for your pain.

Maman ducks her head like she’s going to cry, and I think he might say more, but all he does is extend to her a kerchief.

She quietly takes it and dabs her eyes.

I expect him to say something else, but all he does is stare at the artois buckles of his shoes and hunch those shoulders like he has no leverage with the Assembly.

It won’t be long before he pulls her back to the tumbrel and drives us to Papa’s where I’ll draw her a bath. At last, she’ll accept Papa’s and my offer to stay. We’ll gaze at her portrait Papa commissioned weeks ago, and she’ll comment on how I have her same black mane and enormous eyes. [_Tempeste. My miniature replica. _]She’ll wink.

But that hand[, _]that[ ]same gentle[ ]hand[ _]that had just extended the handkerchief suddenly shoves Maman—hard—in the ribcage.

She buckles. Maman’s scuffed pumps clatter on the rocks and how could he hit her that way? I’ll shove him just as hard. I’ll—

Je suis désolé!” He murmurs, as if mortified.

Clutching her stomach, Maman gasps. “Are you all right?”

You are good and kind, Maman, but you must defend yourself against this fiend.

“I was reaching for the door,” the executioner explains. Lies. So, this is what he does? He pretends to be soft and gentle—before striking his victims when they feel most safe.

“You missed the door by a furlong.” There’s a small smile in Maman’s voice, but she’s supposed to reserve that small smile for me. She’s been deluded by him. He really is a monster. Pretends to be her friend, only to cut her down. And he playacts it’s a mistake!

“Let us proceed.” Maman straightens her neckline, which has always revealed more than Papa would like others to see.

Her dolloped skirts rustle as she steps over the threshold into the shed’s dank, and the only time I’ve ever seen her move with such stiffness is when we visited some of her old friends in Les Innocents cemetery.

I should stand right now and free her before he strikes her again inside. We’ll run to another town where she can do honest work in the open sky.

A pair of uniformed guards round the corner of the shed, and sacrebleu! I should have acted already.

“Sanson.” The taller of the two guards states the executioner’s family name. This guard’s nearly as tall as Papa and has a pair of particularly chilling eyes.

The other, a bearded fellow, looks like he usually pilfers an extra turkey leg or two at family feasts.

“Patrol the grounds,” the executioner says.

The taller one narrows those gray eyes, but snaps to attention and marches up a stone path that wanders toward the other side of the property. The turkey pilferer sniffs around box elders and a lavender plant like he might actually catch a whiff of me.

When he rounds the corner to check the back of the shed, the executioner grips the doorframe. The knuckles of his hands stretch white. Like he’s nervous. It’s like he has a duplicitous personality. I think now might be the moment I tell him to stop[_ _]this nonsense, when a vulture swoops so low that one of its claws nearly taking out one of my eyes.

I slap my hand over my face.

The executioner turns to face me.

I have spent many a night, with Papa, playing hide and seek, so I know very well how to hide. And, as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned how to avoid all sorts of fiendishly handsome eyes. But he is not handsome and I let out a breath as the massive bird swoops for a dead-looking rat several strides away.

There’s a thud as the executioner shuts the door, and I know he’s gone inside the shed. I’ve missed my window of time.

“Place your foot here.” His flat voice floats from the open window to where I sit like a frightened ninny. The turkey pilferer’s begun patrolling a far-off outbuilding, and the tall one’s just exited the gate. If I dive for the window. . .

Like a spooked cat, I whirl to my feet.

I nearly trip over an abandoned shovel, but I manage to keep going as I wind past a mound of thistles and a small pile of hay. When my elbow grazes the cool glass of the windowpane, the executioner glances up.

He’s looking toward the entrance, though, so I manage to duck before he looks at me.

His shadow looms large as he lumbers closer and peers into the darkening night. I crouch so low that I nearly kiss a pile of horse feces. My pulse is in my throat. How can I rescue Maman? At any second, he shall break apart her feet. I very nearly stand to face him when, in my head, I hear her last plea. [Go home, _]she whispered when the National Guardsmen came. _Forget me, Tempeste.

Papa, too, would beg me to run away. But the executioner’s going to hobble her! In a few hours, he’ll hang her by the rope, and after she’s asphyxiated far too long, he shall break her spine.

When the executioner’s shadow recedes, I inch up the shed’s wooden side—to peer through the murky bottom of the windowpane.

Maman sits in a contraption much like a chair, and the executioner’s[_ _]already strapping the studded boot to the first of her feet.

She sits as prim and proper as the queen. She doesn’t even sniff. “Go ahead.” She folds her hands. “I am ready.”

I loathe him. [_Loathe _]the fiend.

The young executioner, he must die.

He plans to torture and hang Maman, but he cannot separate a young mademoiselle from her mother, can he?

His gentle hands place the spike into the studded boot that houses her foot, and I flinch.

Je suis désolé.” I’m sorry, he says sorrowfully.

Day-old blood splatters the window. My mind’s a colony of bees.

He lifts the hammer, and the light of the moon glints off the blunt instrument’s face.

I press my fingertips to the glass to reach Maman, but she is in there and I am out here, and it would break Maman’s and Papa’s hearts if I exposed myself this way.

I’ll take that fine face of his into my hands—and snap his neck.

That is what he rightfully gets, for taking my maman from me.

But it would crush Maman for him to catch me. They would lock me up for impeding her confession. He could break apart [_my _]feet.

Papa made me promise not to interfere, because publicly acknowledging my relation to Maman would, heaven forbid, soil our name.

Je suis désolé.” The executioner[_ _]whispers again, but still Maman fails to whimper in pain. Sweat trickles down her brow. Sweat trickles down my own cheeks.

The bourreau—I can call him the “bourreau” now, because he is not only an executioner, but also the worst possible creature, an executioner [_and _]filthy. He plucks up a second spike.

My nails dig into blood and glass and it takes everything I have not to make a scene.

The hammer cocks back—

The sound of crunching grass has me spinning.

Bonjour, beautiful girl,” The turkey pilferer has an Irish lilt to his voice. His stringy hair reaches his shoulders and he fumbles for his musket, which he obviously hadn’t planned on using this night.

I’ll jab him in the throat. Take off before he can lay a filthy hand on me. But Maman is crying out, so I point out her beautiful figure to the guard.

“How can she confess when she never did the crime?”

The guard wraps a sweaty hand around my wrist. I have but seconds before he yanks me away.

“He’s hurting her!” I yell as hammer hits bone. I am home in the kitchen. For the guard, the cook’s snapping apart turkey legs. Papa’s broken an instrument from the hospital. He won’t be able to repair it for weeks.

The guard yanks me by the back of my hair, and I fall from my buttocks to my knees. Rocks dig into my stockings, and the bourreau breaks and breaks apart her bones and I just might faint.

There’s a clatter—the bourreau’s clumsy boots are slapping the earth as he sprints for the doorway.

He’s seen me?

Once he flings the door open, he retches. It appears his stomach contents need vacating.

“We have an intruder.” The turkey pilferer doesn’t waste time.

Before the bourreau can see me, I dive from the window to the tumbrel and roll to the other side.

I have made a mess of my dress and hair, but doesn’t matter—doesn’t matter. Maman won’t have the opportunity to wear any dresses after this day.

“Let her go,” The bourreau[_ _]mutters as I crouch low, wiping my hair out of my eyes.

“Did you see her?” The hulking guard complains. “She was spying on your work, monsieur.”

“I imagine she’s a relation to the Patient.” The bourreau sighs. “Go find Claude. The two of you may retire for the night.”

“But the girl—”

The bourreau’s voice ratchets up a few levels. “You may leave!”

Maman whimpers from inside the shed, and I dig my nails into the gravel, because I have gambled away my rescue time. I would sneak in even now, but I have lost my advantage. They know I lie in wait.

“Go home,” the bourreau tells the guard once more before stumbling back inside the shed like he’s had too much to drink.

“Come out, come out, pretty girl.” The turkey-pilferer sings.

From where I sit, the bottom tips of his blue military greatcoat sway. He’s training his musket where I hide behind the wheel, so I cannot remain a sitting duck. I must act quickly.

Crawling beneath the length of the tumbrel, bits of gravel bite into my hands and knees. One of the guard’s brass buttons flashes in the moonlight, spurring me to snatch his heavy boot and yank him to his buttocks.

I might have a humble future in France’s military.

Gruff hands seize the back of my arms and when I twist around, I find the taller guard’s chilling gray eyes.

I bat at his gloved hands, but he pulls harder, yanking my arms back painfully.

“Isn’t she pretty?” His voice is far too pleasant and half an octave too high. This one possesses the type of face that tells me that he enjoys taking what he likes from mademoiselles like me. When he pulls my arms back even harder, his foul eyes caress every square inch of my body.

I do not know what to do, so I do what that vulture nearly did to me.

I hook my hand into the shape of a claw and do my best—my very best!—to take out an eye.

My aim lacks perfection. I’ve spent far too much time reading, so I’m as shocked as anyone when the guard clutches his own face and screams.

His eye doesn’t seem to have fallen out, but there’s a fair amount of blood. Like a fair trickle in an urban stream. Should I be concerned that his reaction gives me great pleasure? That I want to try again, for keeps?

The turkey pilferer is almost upon me, so quick as a finch, I spring for the door. “MAMAN, I’M COMING!”

There’s a loud crash and a scuffle inside the shed when Maman’s frantic voice yells, “DO NOT COME IN. LEAVE, MY DARLING!”

Tears burn in my eyes. Why wouldn’t she want me to rescue her? The bourreau cannot [_cannot _]take her from me.

Clumsy footsteps sound inside the door. The bourreau rips it open as I duck behind a nearby bale of hay.

“I said to let her go!” The bourreau says.

The turkey pilferer veers around a fallen wheelbarrow as the guard I injured before grabs his companion’s coat. “SHE’S BLINDED ME.”

There’s an awkward pause as the bourreau takes in the hobbled guards, and me—a mademoiselle, not too gracefully hunching behind a half-smashed bale of hay.

I keep my head low. Maman told me to run, so she must know that his identifying me would mean more horrible consequences for her, Papa, and me.

“Mademoiselle?” The executioner’s—the bourreau’s—voice is laced with this false sweetness, and he is full of lies so I grab a loose paving stone and launch it at his face.

My skirts rustle in the wind as I tear for the exit of his property.

“Mademoiselle!” the bourreau calls again and I could roast his deceitful person over a pitted fire. Season his lying jowl like a pork loin.

Footsteps club the ground—they are in pursuit—but, quicker than a fox, I sprint through the gate. Purple gourdon flowers are starting to bud, which is yet another reminder of what Maman will no longer see.

The filthy executioner bourreau is dead to me.

Tears cloud my vision as I dash toward a blurry-looking apple vendor in a red cap half a block away. Shall I return home? Return home—there is no practical fashion in which I could simply return to my quarters, pluck up my Plutarch, and read.

I swipe a yellowed apple from the vendor who shouts in protest, but I do not care because I am a changed person and there is no telling how I shall behave.

I’ll plot and search everything I can about Maman’s accusers—how and why she got here in the first place. And I soberly vow to Maman:

This is not the end for the bourreau and me.

Also by Mary Gray



A short story prequel to be read in 15 minutes or less. The young executioner, he must die. He plans to torture and hang Maman, but he cannot separate a young mademoiselle from her mother, can he? His gentle hands place the spike into the studded boot that houses her foot, and I flinch. “Je suis désolé.” I’m sorry, he says sorrowfully. Day-old blood splatters the window. My mind’s a colony of bees. He lifts the hammer, and the light of the moon glints off the blunt instrument’s face. I press my fingertips to the glass to reach Maman, but she is in there and I am out here, and it would break Maman’s and Papa’s hearts if I exposed myself this way. I’ll take that fine face of his into my hands—and snap his neck. That is what he rightfully gets, for taking my maman from me.

  • Author: Mary Gray
  • Published: 2017-05-24 20:20:10
  • Words: 2962