Book Title: The Dark Shadows of Kaysersberg
Series: Book Six in The French Orphan Series(this book does standalone)
Author: Michael Stolle
Publication Date: 27th December 2020
Publisher: Independently Published
Page Length: 223 Pages
@Archaeolibrary, @maryanneyarde, @MichaelStolle16,
It’s 1646 and infant King Louis XIV reigns over France; wily Cardinal Mazarin holds the reins of power - but he needs money, desperately.
Armand de Saint Paul, the younger son of a great and rich noble house, is leading a carefree life in Paris, dedicating his time to such pleasures as gambling, hunting and amorous pursuits.
Unexpectedly, Armand has to defend the honour of his house in a duel that transpires to be a deadly trap, set up by a mighty foe of the house of Saint Paul.
Will Armand be able to escape the deadly net of intrigue that soon threatens to destroy him?
How can a young man deal with love, when it’s no longer a game, but a dream beyond reach?
The leading question is: What is going on behind the façade that is Castle Kaysersberg, where nothing is as it seems to be … until the day when the dark shadows come alive?
The glorious summer had paled into late autumn when the dignified butler of the Marquis de Beauvoir opened the door of the drawing room.
‘The noble Armand de Saint Paul is requesting the pleasure of your company, Monsieur le Marquis,’ the butler twanged, keeping his back straight like a rod.
‘You know that Armand may join me at any time, why didn’t you let him in immediately?’ The young Marquis de Beauvoir frowned and exclaimed: ‘There’s no need for being formal with my best friend.’
‘That’s what I told this dried old toad of a butler already,’ came the cheerful voice of Armand, who had entered the drawing room, not willing to wait for a formal invitation.
Pierre, Marquis de Beauvoir, stepped forward and hugged his best friend.
Both men made a strikingly handsome pair, Pierre de Beauvoir had a shock of fair hair, like spun gold whereas his friend Armand was blessed with brown, curly hair and the kind of brown eyes that could melt hearts in seconds.
‘What’s bringing you over so early?’ Pierre asked, and poured a glass of wine for his friend.
‘Well, there’s a sort of complication, some might even say, a kind of predicament,’ Armand replied cautiously, tasting the wine with obvious pleasure.
‘Good stuff you have here; coming from your own vineyards in Montrésor?’
‘No, that’s a wine from Avignon, I acquired some vineyards over there recently.’
‘Really good stuff! Send me a bottle or two – or make it three,’ Armand replied with a grin.
‘What kind of predicament?’ his friend asked, not willing to be distracted, ‘The usual? Money, women, jealous husbands menacing to kill you?’
‘I’m afraid it’s a bit more complicated this time. I need you to act as my second.’
‘You must be joking!’ Pierre exclaimed. ‘You’re not participating in a duel, aren’t you? It’s forbidden – you risk the death penalty. The law has been changed. Queen Anne hates duels!’
‘Spare me the lectures, Pierre, I know all of this. But I had no choice, I had to challenge Gilbert de Lantenay.’
‘Gilbert de Lantenay? Now I’m sure that you’re totally bonkers! Gilbert has killed every opponent in a duel so far that I know of. This man is a killing machine. I don’t understand why he always managed to escape prosecution. But you have no choice, you must stop this lunacy, I won’t act as your second to bring you home as a corpse.’
‘I cannot paddle back, Pierre. He’s insulted me, my father and my mother in front of my friends, the honour of the House of Saint Paul is engaged.’
Pierre poured some more wine into his glass and took a big gulp. ‘Tell me more,’ he finally said, ‘What and how did it happen?’
‘My friends and I visited a new gambling den, you know the one in the Rue Neubourg, it’s all the fashion now. We were playing and drinking, nothing special, the usual night out under friends. When I was tired of losing at playing cards, I thought that I might give it a try with the dice. We were playing and finally I had a winning streak when Gilbert came to our table and watched us with his usual smirk.’
‘That’s not a crime, is it?’ Pierre remarked cautiously.
‘Of course not, but listen to what he said to me, so loud that everyone would hear him: “That’s cute little Armand de Saint Paul winning at dice, isn’t he? Well, I wouldn’t be astonished if the dice weren’t loaded. Usually Armand never wins, he’s a born loser, we all know that.”’
‘That is strong,’ Pierre gasped, ‘How could he dare?’
‘That’s not all,’ Armand was fuming with rage as he recalled the words: ‘If ever he’s a true Saint Paul at all, in this family, well, it’s known that they have a very … liberal … spirit …’
‘I understand now,’ Pierre answered, trying to digest the news.
‘You had to challenge him. There was no other option. I just wonder why he provoked you like that?’
‘I have no clue,’ Armand replied, ‘I barely had any contact with this fellow before, he’s not even a count, just a shady baron clinging to fringe of the noble circles. But I must defend our honour, I have no other option.’
Armand stayed for another hour until he remembered that he had promised his mother to accompany her for a social event later this evening and left in a hurry.
As soon as his friend was gone, Pierre called his valet, Jean. Over the years, Jean had been part of so many adventures that he had become more of a confidant than a mere valet.
‘What would you know of Gilbert de Lantenay?’ Pierre asked his valet.
‘Nothing, my lord, the name doesn’t ring a bell. I’d need to gather some information if this is of importance to Your Lordship.’
‘Please do, I think that it’s important, not to say most important.’
‘Give me a day or two, my lord. It will be done. I have my sources.’
‘Thank you, Jean, and call the grooms now, I’ll take the coach, I think I need to talk to my friend François.’
Not even an hour later, the clock in the entrance was almost showing noon, he entered the newly erected, elegant Hôtel de Toucy that was the home of François de Toucy and his ever-growing aspiring family.
François received him immediately, not hiding his surprise to meet his friend at this unusual hour of the day.
‘Pierre, how good to see you. But why didn’t you send me a short notice beforehand? What happened, did Marie give you the boot or why are you coming unannounced at this time of the day?’
Pierre laughed and hugged his friend:
‘Marie’s staying this week in Reims with her mother, she’s fine, don’t worry. No, it’s Armand who’s worrying me and I need your advice.’
Pierre summed up the discussion with his friend and his concerns were immediately confirmed by François who exclaimed: ‘Gilbert de Lantenay, by heaven’s sake, he couldn’t have chosen worse. This man was brilliant in sword fighting and also the best marksman when I served as officer in the King’s Musketeers. Never saw anybody better – and he’s bloody determined. If he’s set his mind on something, he’s like a raging bull.’
‘That’s exactly what I was afraid of. I’ve met de Lantenay from time to time at court, but we exchanged a short nod, that’s all. Why the hell would he make Armand challenge him?’
‘I know that he’s in debt,’ François replied after short consideration. ‘He’s gambled away the small fortune left by his father and I know that his horses are up for sale. I considered buying them, a good breed.’
‘Well, killing Armand won’t make him a rich man,’ Pierre objected.
‘Unless …’ François replied
‘Unless someone will pay him to see Armand dead. I’m afraid that’s the only explanation that makes sense.’
‘I need a drink now. Do you have something strong like a brandy?’ Pierre slumped into an armchair, a gilded piece of furniture upholstered with delicate straw-coloured brocade. But Pierre had no consideration for the modern tasteful furniture that François’ wife had brought from her native Italy.
‘What can we do, François? It’s like murder announced beforehand; we can’t watch Armand being slaughtered in front of our eyes.’
‘Any idea, who’s behind this?’ François asked while he poured a drink for Pierre.
‘None. No, that’s wrong, let me rephrase it – too many. Armand has cuckolded so many husbands at court that I lost count. Anyone of those could be behind this.’
‘Hmm, regrettably that’s true. And yet, setting up this trap will have needed cunning and won’t come cheap, so it may boil down to a few culprits in the end.’
‘We have no time, François! De Lantenay has already named his seconds and the duel is to take place very soon, outside Paris, close to Versailles. We need to act fast.’
Born in 1957, living and educated in Europe, Michael has always been intrigued by the historical setting and the fact that what makes us human was as true in the 17th century as it is now. He has been reading and writing about history for longer than he cares to recall...
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