“A massacre, Madame!” the messenger cried, bursting into the hall in a rush of metal and fear. “The Comte d’Albret is dead!”
Marie turned slowly from her daughters, drawing herself up to full height, comforting familiarity replaced by stern regality in an instant. Afraid of what was happening, afraid of what her mother’s sudden change in demeanor meant, Delilah grabbed little Catherine’s hand, squeezing it tightly in her own.
“How do you mean? I had thought we outnumbered them substantially?”
The man knelt, his hair falling forward into his face. Delilah didn’t know why that mattered, but somehow it struck her as a hopeless gesture, as though he did not have the courage left to brush it from his eyes. “They have the wrath of God on their side. They fight like men possessed.”
“Papa is not dead,” Guillaume cried, clutching to his mother desperately. “Tell him, Mama, tell him that Papa isn’t dead!”
Crouching down to scoop the boy into her arms, Marie d’Albret beckoned to her other children, pulling them closer. “All of you,” she ordered, softening her voice only marginally, “go wait for me in your boudoir. I have to attend to important matters here, and then I will come and find you.”
Jeanne, ever the good one, obeyed immediately, gathering up the younger children and hurrying off down the corridor, but Delilah stayed, curiosity and fear warring for dominance in her mind. Pressing close to the door so that she could see through the crack, the child watched her mother and the messenger, their conversation hushed and muddled by the heavy oak.
My father is dead.
As the thought washed through her, realization dawning a cruel, bloody red, she shuddered, pressing upon the door just a bit too much. Creaking as though the wood itself tore apart, it moved a fraction of an inch, just barely enough to alert them to her presence.
Jolting at the noise, her mother spun, the messenger jerking upright just long enough for Delilah to see his eyes for the first time, eyes full of loathing, eyes full of hate.