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?
She smiled at him, but sadly.
‘I’ve come to say a final good-bye, my love.’
Armand wanted to reply but she made a sign to stay silent.
‘The countess came to the kitchen today, she wanted to see how I’m doing. Cook ushered me, of course, immediately into the scullery, but my hands betrayed me.’
‘How is that?’
‘You’re a man, you’d never pay attention. Have you ever spent some time in a kitchen? Scullery maids have terrible hands, the bleach and the soap make the skin crack; their hands are always red and swollen, often bleeding. The countess saw immediately that the servants must have spared me the hard work as my hands are soft.’
‘What did she say?’ Armand asked.
‘She was all smiles. ‘Ah, my dearest Elisabeth, I’m afraid that there’s not enough work for you here in the kitchen. I’ll arrange that you’ll find a place in the pig stables, they always need a helping hand.’
‘That can’t be true! What a terrible witch this woman is. I’ll kill her.’
‘Please do, you’ve got my blessings,’ Elisabeth answered with a more cheerful voice. ‘I really hope that one day you’ll find the opportunity to do so. This woman is the devil. There’s no other word. But you understand, my love. I must flee, I have no choice. I shall never demean myself and work in a pig stable, I’d better be dead.’
‘But how to escape? And where will you go to? I cannot even protect you. It’s too dangerous to walk alone in the deep snow. We were almost eaten alive by the wolves before we arrived.’
‘I know, but I have a plan. I know people who can hide me. Please, don’t insist, I can’t tell you more, it’s too dangerous – for you and for me.’
Armand swallowed deeply. ‘I’ll not insist if this could put you into any danger. For me, I don’t care. But we must meet again. Promise me; I love you.’
How often had he said, ‘I love you,’ the magic words every woman wanted to hear? They had come easily, smoothly – a well-rehearsed tool of seduction. But this time his words rang true. The moment he was to lose Elisabeth, Armand realized that losing Elisabeth was a thought he couldn’t bear.
‘One should never give up hope,’ Elisabeth replied solemnly, ‘never, ever. I love you too.’
She looked at him with a crooked smile. ‘I shouldn’t, I know. It’s not meant to be. I also know that I should never have told you. But circumstances are special. We have no time to play courtly games and I want you to know that I’ll never forget you.’
She embraced Armand with surprising strength.
‘Now let me leave. Be prepared – something will happen, I don’t know yet when, but in a day or two. Be ready, act fast. This will be your one and only chance.’
Before Armand had understood what was happening to him, she kissed him full on his lips and seconds later she was gone.
‘I never met a lady like her before,’ Mathieu said, ‘she’s truly remarkable. If someone can rescue us, it will be her. She may be working as a maid now, but she’s a true lady.’
Meet Michael Stolle
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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