I remember the night my brother died. I’d been eleven years old, him eighteen. And the Palais de Neige, our Fall estate, was under siege.
“This is not a minor uprising!” A musketeer burst into my bedroom, followed by eighteen year old Blaine Tripoli, my brother. Even in my gloomy state of sleep, I knew full well that men were not supposed to be in my room. Blaine and the musketeer’s breath was like fog in the frigid atmosphere of my room. The Palais de Neige was our Fall residence due to its warm temperatures even in the latter seasons. But the palace - like everything else after that night - was cold. I wrapped the linen sheets of my canopy bed around me, tilting my head so I could hear the words coming out of Blaine and the musketeer’s mouths.
“Don’t you dare wake her up, it might disperse,” Blaine protested. “I don’t want to scare her, Athos!” They were talking about me. I knew they were. The royal musketeers never spoke of me by name; no, if they were caught with the word ‘Corrine’ on the tip of their tongues, they were removed from the force, and heaven knows what happens after that.I had a feeling that it was because the musketeers were caught teaching me to fence.
But that didn’t matter. Something was wrong - more than the fact that I was an eleven year old girl who could use a sword.
“It will not disperse! Now either you get her up or I will,” Athos snapped, kneeling down on the cold wooden floor. Loosening a board, he grabbed a silver object. A rapier. He threw it to Blaine, rolling his eyes at the eighteen year old.
Wait. Athos looks exactly like Aile and Tennyson. Didn’t Devereux say that they were his sons? My thought was like a hand threw a ghost to my memory. The flashback shuddered for a second, and then came back into focus. I wish that it would’ve turned off - that I could wake up in the real world - but I missed seeing my brother alive.
And this flashback was the first thing I’ve seen of him eight years. I wasn’t going back now.
“No. I am not going to wake her up! Let’s just walk out there, and see if we ca-” I sat up in bed, glaring across the room at them. It was a trigger reaction; I couldn’t change this flashback. If I could, God, I would have ran across that room and convinced Blaine to hide in a closet. Hide anywhere, as long as he didn’t go anywhere near the staircase of this estate.
“Too late. I am already.” I shuffled out of the covers, and placed my barefeet onto the floor. The frozen floorboards burned my feet. It was so cold it was hot. I grabbed my boots from the left corner of my room. “You do know that this is improper, to be in a young lady’s bedroom at this hour?”
“Would you rather your leg be shredded by a bullet?” Athos asked. I could tell that he wasn’t enjoying being around me. He, after all, had been the man that was caught teaching me fencing. After that, he’d been too weary to even look into my eyes. “I'm going to go get Porthos's daughter. Carry Corrine. A lady does not walk into a siege on her own.”
What? Did the man who had taught me to fence just say that?
I raised my chin up high.
“You mistake my being a lady for being weak,” I said, reaching for the rapier in Blaine’s hands. He tightened his grip on the hilt, his jaw a firm, hard line on his face. The musketeers seemed to be gripping at my dress, begging me to continue. “For having manners, and wearing dresses…” Hands on the blade, I yanked it from Blaine’s grip. The blade cut through my flesh, dotting blood on the floors. “But being a lady has only made me stronger. I will walk on my own.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
We ran down the oak-wood stairs to see flames clawing at a maid’s face.
“They got in, they got in, they got in! Oh, épargnez-moi , épargnez-moi ! Que Dieu ait pitié de mon âme , je marche dans la vallée de l'ombre .... NON! AIDEZ MOI!” It was the kind of scream that made my blood become ice water colored red. If the maid had been dying of a gun wound… of anything but burning to death, her face would’ve been cold and clammy.
But this was the exact opposite. She recoiled from the touch of the flame, her skin shriveling into a bright red, glowing burn. Blaine yanked at my hand. But I could not rip my eyes away from the shrieking maid. Her cries were strangled, ear splitting. I need to help her!
Burnt flesh stung my nose. “Blaine, stop grabbing me! Get some water!” The fire was quickly spreading, climbing up the maid’s legs and clawing her skin to shreds. What flesh that the fire left was a filmy layer, and, God, I could see her bones. “Get the water!”
“AIDEZ MOI!” HELP ME!
Blaine wrestled with his tunic, trying to find the canteen of water. The maid writhed on the ground, flames engulfing her. Finally uncapping the canteen, he threw it over her smouldering body. And then she was still, her skin melting off into bits and chunks of bloody meat. Her hair was singed into a pile of ashes, and the only thing left of her… were her eyes.
The irises, bright red.
I could hear myself scream, the smoke from the remnants of the fire stinging my eyes and the disgusting scent choking me. Blaine grabbed me by the shoulders.
“Shh, shh!” He clapped his hand over my mouth, his eyebrows raised and his dark eyes clouded with worry. “She said they got in. The rebels are in here, and if they hear you screamin-” A sudden bang and then a screech cut the air. From the stairwell banister a few feet away, a woman jumped, her black dress billowing as the sudden rush of air hit her. A loud crack followed.
Blaine cursed wildly, and then crossed himself, muttering, “God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in trouble….” Blaine put me an arm’s length away from him. Cupping my chin, he looked straight into my eyes, and said, “Do not make a sound, Corrine. Or the shadows will catch you. Do no-”
“Tu exaudi de scream?” A man in black and red, his eyes covered with a scarlet mask that came down to the bridge of his nose, ran down the stairs. Glancing at the black dress lady’s broken body, he yanked a gold chain away from her neck.
I instantly identified the woman: Mademoiselle Elaine. Our prayer teacher. She’d jumped to her death. I opened my mouth to let out another yell. And then remembered Blaine’s warning. Do not make a sound, Corrine. Or the shadows will catch you.
“‘Did you hear the scream?’” Blaine whispered, feeling around in the dark corner for his rapier. “That’s what he said. In Latin.” Blaine crouched under the table, using the maid’s body as a cover. He’d propped her up against the chairs, her eerie red eyes staring at the man in scarlet.
“Forsit est domina.” Another man hustled to the banister to look at the other.
“‘Probably the lady’,” Blaine translated, cocking his pistol.
“Nos audire te Musketeer.” Even I understood what he’d said. I huddled myself into the corner as Blaine stepped out from under the table, his rapier in his left hand and his pistol in the other.
“You called, Cardinalis viri?” Blaine asked, his eyebrows crooked and his gaze hard. As though he’d faced them before. But how? He just became a musketeer. Unless there’s something I don’t know about.
That would not be new.
“Oui, Blaine Tripoli.” Blaine tilted his head to the side. “And so did this bullet.”
And he pulled the trigger.
Don't make a sound. Or the shadows will catch you, Blaine told me. They didn’t get a hold of me. But they did get him.
And while my brother was lying on the ground, bleeding through a hole in his head, all I could hear was dogs. Barking.