Some of the voices in In The Name of the King will be familiar to readers of Honour and the Sword, and you can have a foretaste of what they’re saying here:
I shouted a warning as his blade shot forward, but my voice was lost in the clash as André’s flew up to meet it. The blond dropped quickly to reprise in the throat, but André twisted to let the thrust pass him, scything his own blade backwards to strike with the edge. The blond stepped back with a hiss of breath and I saw a fine scarlet line across his neck. His eyes looked hot with rage.
Then he was in again, hard and fast at the face, André whirling the blade to drive him back. The blond was older and stronger, the boy had to avoid close body and keep distance, but he couldn’t step back beyond the crates, if he opened the gap they’d cut him down from all sides. And he was good, that blond, really good. He was drunk, of course, he hadn’t got André’s accuracy, but he was fast as well as strong, and he wasn’t trying just to get a hit like the boy had done, he was looking to kill.
I looked desperately down the passageway. On one side the wall was just twelve feet high with no roof, but it was still too smooth to climb. After all those years of fighting Spaniards we were going to be killed in a stinking alley by a pack of noblemen looking for an evening’s entertainment, we were going to be murdered by the boy’s own kind.
Other voices were mixing in with it too, rough with desperation. Roquelaure was trying to rally his cavalry, but then he was down and surrounded by the enemy. Fabert’s country voice was yelling his men to hold, Sourdis was screaming at our retreating cavalry, de Bauffremont was shouting ‘Stand, Piémont, stand!’ Uxelles, Andelot, Roussillon, all of them crying the same thing ‘Hold the line there, hold them, hold them, hold …’
I was dancing Guinevere back and whirling round with the sword, man down and on to the next, the next, always the next, and still the voices crying ever more urgently ‘Hold them, hold them,’ till there wasn’t even a ‘them’ any more, the world was shrinking to nothing but that single word, ranks of men breaking and running and nothing in my ears but that endless hopeless cry to ‘Hold!’
I grabbed him. I snatched his collar in both fists and yanked him up to face me. ‘I’ve done it, haven’t I? What are you saying, I’m less of a man for it?’
‘No,’ he said, wrenching clear. ‘No!’ He tugged at his twisted collar and glared at me. ‘You know I didn’t mean … You know I understand.’
I was sick of it and sick of him. ‘No, you don’t, it’s the Saillie all over again. You’ll muck in the dirt with the likes of me and Grimauld, but at heart you think you’re better, don’t you? You despise the lot of us.’
A gust of wind set the tents flapping with a crack of canvas, but André didn’t move. His face was very white in the dark.
I said ‘Well, you’re wrong. We understand your finer feelings, we just can’t afford them. And right now neither can you.’
A man yelled in pain, and I thought, Good, that’s one down, but others were calling ‘Behind, behind,’ ‘Get his arm,’ then ‘Now!’ and suddenly a short cry. I heard laughter then shouting and knew I must get to him, but my dress caught on the stone hand, and I had to rip it to wrench free. The lion statue jarred my shins, but I scrambled past and stumbled to the door.
I ran blindly over the gravel on to the grass and I think I was crying ‘Stop!’ Even the air was frightening as if filled with unseen swords, and I turned round and round, my dress tangling in my legs, and my head confused with pain and fear. Something grasped my ankle, I snatched it away in terror, and saw a man lying writhing on the ground. I stared in panic, but he was not André. The two of us were quite alone.
Others are new, but will have a significant part to play:
My attic bedroom faced the courtyard so the sounds from the road were muffled, but as I lay with my ears open I heard even the late carriages rattle by in the Rue de Braque, splashing up water from the puddles as they passed. When Louis shut the courtyard gate the crash of the bolts seemed loud as a gunshot. I listened for the familiar bang of the side door as he came in to bed, then the squeak of hinges as the kitchen door closed. After that should be silence, for so it always was, but this night there were still faint voices from the public room and I knew Madame and Monsieur were waiting up.
I wondered what for.
I do not know how much longer it was before I heard horses, but if I had dozed I woke in an instant. I climbed quietly from the bed, found my cloak in the dark and fastened it round my shoulders. Below me I heard the front door open and close, and again the murmur of voices. Then the stairs began to creak. I crept to the trap, and watched its edges begin to shimmer with faint light as someone carried a candle from below.
I pressed my head to the crack and heard Monsieur whisper ‘The ladder’s gone.’
The maid looked at me with lower lip flopping and said ‘The mistress is sick of a brain fever, the master says she’s not to be disturbed.’
‘Ah, but my letter will cure all that,’ says I, oozing charm like a monk with a collecting box. ‘You fetch her for me, my poppet, you’ll see.’
‘I’ll get her companion,’ says she, not being up to anything harder, nor likely to meet it with a face like that. ‘Jeanette will know.’
Ah, now Jeanette was more like it, wide smile, plump where you like it, altogether nice-looking piece. There was no messing with her either. She says ‘Is it M. de Roland?’ I says ‘Yes,’ and she says ‘Right,’ then she’s off again and back in a moment with a poor wilting creature it takes me a second to identify as the woman I last saw hacking at a hedge like a Lyons executioner. She rips open the letter and reads it, and oh my word, the difference. When she looks at me again, she’s a lovely thing, ripe and blushing, I wouldn’t have said no to it myself, always providing there weren’t no axe in the vicinity.
‘Is there an answer?’ says I.
‘Yes,’ says she. ‘That’s the answer. Yes.’
It was all over her, that ‘yes’, like blossom on a tree. I found myself thinking of it all the walk back, and for a little time the world looked shiny and bright-coloured to me too, just the way the laddie saw it and it never ever was.